Hurdles ahead in future irrigation development

Irrigation New Zealand's (INZ) held its conference in Alexandra earlier this month and the primary focus was on irrigation and its future role.

IrrigationNZ chair Nicky Hyslop said the conference ``celebrated the role that irrigation played''.

The future of the Manuherikia Catchment Water Strategy Group's plan to raise the height of Falls Dam by 6m to irrigate 12,500ha was highlighted following the announcement that the Crown Irrigation Investments (CII) would not be funding any more irrigation projects.

Water strategy group chairman Allan Kane said it had decided, based on pre-feasibility study information, that raising Falls Dam by 6m to irrigate 12,500ha was the best option.

However, the Government's announcement meant alternative funding options would need to be found to contribute to the group's final feasibility study.

``It is a major hurdle,'' Mr Kane said.

Goldfields Heritage Trust's Terry Davis, talked about the impact gold mining had on the region.

He said water was needed for gold mining and water races had been carved out of rock by hand to transport water to mining sites.

Farmer and deputy chairman of the Manuherikia Catchment Water Strategy Group Gary Kelliher said Central Otago particularly suited horticulture and about 20 water schemes were established.

The water races are still used by farmers, and provide recreation opportunities for walkers and cyclists.

Farmer and Otago Rural Support Trust chairman Gavan Herlihy said one of the challenges was the impending demise of the mining right system.

About 20 years ago the government had decided to put a ``red line'' through the mining rights system in line with other regions, despite the unique nature of Central Otago.

However, it then decided it was too hard and gave farmers until 2021 to apply for permits.

He said there were 365 rights still outstanding.

There are about 300 centre pivots in operation, of which only a small percentage was for dairying and now the region produces high-quality fruit and wine.

``That is made possible by water, a fact that escapes the greenie Auckland latte set, while they sip on our region's pinot noir and Central Otago cherries, and in the same breath decry the use of water for irrigation,'' he said.

Kyeburn Catchment Ltd director Hamish McKenzie and consultant Susie McKeague talked about the long and expensive process the group went through to put together a proposal for a water permit application on behalf of 15 users.

He said it had cost about $600,000 to date to get agreements and work through issues on water sharing and data collection.

Their formal proposal had been accepted from all parties in the group, apart from Fish and Game New Zealand.

``We decided to go ahead without them and forward the proposal to Otago Regional Council.''


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