Security for Otago farmers unclear amid water plans

Some Otago farmers could be left with "unbankable" irrigation schemes as the Government recommends an overhaul of the Otago Regional Council's planning processes.

Environment Minister David Parker yesterday released a raft of recommendations for the council after an investigation into its management of freshwater.

It said the council was not equipped to transfer hundreds of century-old water rights into resource consents by 2021, and regardless it should not do so because they would be processed under its current "inadequate" water plan.

On top of the rewriting of council plans already in progress, it recommended an interim plan change to transfer the permits into consents in the meantime.

They would be for a maximum of five years, which some farmers say is too short to ensure future security.

Manuherikia River water user and high country farmer Andrew Paterson said these periods were "not bankable".

He wanted to upgrade his flood irrigation to a cleaner and more efficient spray system, but could not because the "banks won't lend".

Within the last 18 months the council and water users
were working together and were on track to meet deadlines, he said.

"I think the [ministry] report came with an agenda. It had already pre-decided what they were going to do."

Otago Federated Farmers president Simon Davies said the recommendations put farmers in a "holding pattern" for an additional five years.

Many farmers needed to upgrade from flood to pivot irrigation, which was "better for everyone", but it would be difficult to prove loans could be paid off in five years.

"These farmers don't have an extra million dollars lying around."

Mr Parker said he did not think the short-term consents should "cause much angst".

"They get their issue dealt with in the interim pending a longer term fix. That's all people can expect to achieve here."

Council policy committee iwi representative Edward Ellison said the overhaul suggested by the report was "long overdue".

"In my time there it was pretty evident that the planning framework was not fit for purpose."

Otago Fish & Game Council chief executive Ian Hadland said it supported the report's findings and recommendations.

"The current framework is the one which has seen Otago's rivers depleted on a scale
rarely seen elsewhere in New Zealand and this cannot continue.

"In the immediate, the ORC must ensure that decisions made under this framework will not be locked in for the long term. We owe that to future generations."

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