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Otago Regional Council spending on consultants and contractors working on major water-related activities has increased more than 10-fold over the past six years, jumping to more than $1 million last financial year.
But council chief executive Sarah Gardner said it was important to have "the right people in place" to do the work, and the spending showed how seriously the council was treating water issues.
Figures obtained through the Official Information Act (OIA) show council spending on consultants and contractors working on Otago's regional water plan and minimum flow and allocation processes jumped from $83,333 in 2013-14 to $1,289,697 in 2018-19.
The spending roughly doubled each year during that time until 2017-18, when spending was $1,192,255.
The amount of additional spending on water consents could not be broken down, although all costs for consent applications were charged to the applicant, the OIA response said.
The number of consulting firms used by the council for water-related activities has also had a corresponding increase - from eight in 2013-14 to 39 in 2018-19.
Of the consulting firms used in 2018-19, 14 had offices in Dunedin, seven had offices elsewhere in Otago, and 18 were based outside Otago, in Christchurch, Nelson, Auckland, Wellington, Palmerston North, Hamilton and Coromandel, the OIA response said.
But Otago Water Resource Users Group representative Gary Kelliher, of the Manuherikia Valley, said the council spending did not represent the "true cost" of water processes, which would be even higher when council staff costs and "huge" spending by irrigators and other stakeholders were added.
"If it's [council spending] going towards good outcomes, then I guess that has to be the cost of it."
But if scientific data and genuine progress did not come soon, "then it's going to be really questionable if this money is being spent well, and if it is focused on getting a fair result for everyone", Mr Kelliher said.
The council did not respond to a question about whether the use of consultants outside of Otago increased the cost to ratepayers.
But Ms Gardner said the council was "committed to having the right people in place to do the work required around water issues in Otago; this can involve using a mix of permanent staff and consultants".
She said the spending was vital.
"The money we are spending in this area reflects the urgency and importance of this work - it's what we mean when we say that water is our number one priority."
, ORC water processes under way at present include the renewal of all historic deemed permits into new resource consents by 2021; minimum flow and allocation processes for the Manuherikia, Cardrona and Arrow catchments; and amending the rural water quality rulesknown as plan change 6A.
, Government is investigating the council’s capacity to deal with renewal of historic mining rights. Separately, a leaked council report said the council was ‘‘ill prepared’’ to process the coming influx of water permit replacement applications. About 230 of the estimated 795 deemed permitholders have still to apply for a replacement consent.
, Council leaders have said they would co-operate with the investigation, and had a plan to handle the water consents.