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A resource consent application filed with Environment Southland to take up to 3600 cubic metres of water per day from the bores that feed the Gore water supply is to be the subject of a hearing on Friday.
Steeghs Partnership applied to take additional water from the Knapdale groundwater zone. The application stated the proposed take would not exceed 351,000cu m a year.
Peter Steeghs said yesterday the partnership already had one consent allowing the irrigation of about 80ha of their 335ha (effective) property, but in dry years they needed to irrigate more and that was what had prompted the application.
The lack of water in dry years had had an economic impact on the dairy farm, Mr Steeghs said. The partnership milked 750 cows this season, but if it had access to water during dry months it might be able to increase the herd by another 150 to 250 cows, he said.
"It would help with production," Mr Steeghs said.
Mr Steeghs stressed that it would be only in extreme dry conditions that the farming operation would draw larger volumes of water.
"This year we only used half of our water allocation - you wouldn't be using it for four or five months every year, it's just [for the] more dry years," he said.
The farming partnership had carried out extensive testing in order to make sure the impact on aquifers would be minimal.
"We don't want to impact on Gore," he said.
Gore District Council had submitted against the proposal.
At the council's regulatory and planning committee meeting in February, Cr Neil Harvey said he had received several phone calls from people expressing concern about the possibility of a large draw on the town's water supply.
Council general manager district assets Paul Withers said in a memo tabled at the February meeting, the 3600cu m per day requested by the applicant for irrigation represented three-quarters of the average daily use by the Gore township.
Fish & Game New Zealand Southland region representative Jan Riddell, who opposed the granting of the application, said, in the organisation's submission, that irrigation was large consumptive use of water resources and could adversely affect surface water resources, such as the Mataura River, which was subject to a water conservation order.
Gore residents Chris and Suzanne Boyle, who also opposed the application, said the households in Gore township were encouraged to save water. Water restrictions were more severe this year and the availability of water would seem to be precarious.
"It was incomprehensible that there could be enough water in the aquifer to allow this application when the township was under such harsh restrictions," the couple said in their submission.
Several other submitters were also concerned about the effect the large water take would have on the town's water supply.
Department of Conservation representative Dave Taylor said in Doc's submission that large-scale abstractions, such as the applicant's, could adversely affect surface water resources. This could include losses from the Mataura River and wetlands as a result of increased recharge and loss of spring inflows to the river, reducing base flows and extending the duration of low-flow during dry periods, Mr Taylor said in the submission.
However, ES consents officer Stephen West said in a recommendation the assessment by the applicant and a review carried out by Liquid Earth hydrogeologist Brydone Hughes indicated the proposal would only have minor effects on the aquifer and neighbours' wells.
"It will have a depletion effect but, with a flow cut-off, the effect on the river will be minor," Mr West said in the recommendation.
"Mr Hughes' assessment, however, has also indicated that the potential cumulative reduction in groundwater baseflow discharge may be more than minor, but could be mitigated by a higher minimum flow cut-off.
"More work is being done on cumulative stream depletion effects but, at the time of preparing this report, there is insufficient information to advise the committee how it might impact on the application,'' he said.
Mr West recommended the application be approved, subject to a string of conditions.