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The public will find out the preliminary results of the hotly debated Manuherikia River minimum flows consultation this week.
Last week, the Otago Regional Council advised that more than 1000 groups and individuals had made submissions on the five scenarios that were put forward for public consultation.
The five flow options tabled range from 1200 litres per second (option 1) up to 3000 litres per second (option 5).
Members of the Manuherekia Reference Group (MRG), which was formed to give the different water users’ perspectives, has an analysis of the submissions, which will be publicly released by Friday.
The heads-up from one of the interest groups, the Central Otago Environment Society, is that opinions are polarised and show a clear division between minimum and maximum-flow supporters.
Maximum-flow supporters believe this is better for the river’s health, while some minimum-flow supporters see this as detrimental to farming.
A high flow of 3000 litres per second would limit the amount of reliable irrigation water by between 73% and 74%.
He said a lower flow of 1100 litres per second proposed at the Alexandra Holiday Park would meet the requirements of the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020, as well as provide for the health of the river, and this position was defensible in the Environment Court and to water commissioners.
Unable to take part in the decision-making because of a declared interest, Cr Kelliher has continued to be outspoken in his criticism of the way the Otago Regional Council has managed the process and the range of options given.
He has intimated that the ORC should have stuck to its role of facilitating the science for decision-making, and he feared the regional council and the environmental groups would opt for a high flow, regardless of what the science said and the impact on financial viability.
The ORC has disputed any notion of the process being anything other than thorough and ‘‘clear’’.
The Manuherikia was a complex catchment, but the national requirements underpinning the planning framework were clear, he said.
The regional council’s obligations to the vital importance of water, Te Mana o te Wai, were also clear and the role of the MRG ‘‘in this current process, including working on the recent scenarios outlined in the consultation document, is clear’’, he said.
The ORC was the ultimate decision-maker about the policy direction, and the MRG the forum to provide for Te Mana o te Wai under the Resource Management Act. It was the reference group’s job to identify the full range of possible solutions for improving the environmental and economic state ‘‘to progress positive change’’.
‘‘This is the point we are at now, and why the consultation document was released for community feedback.’’
The impact of this work on all of the communities with a stake in the management of freshwater in the Manuherikia ‘‘is appreciated and understood’’, he said.
He disputed Cr Kelliher's suggestion that the whole process had been delayed.
‘‘Suggestions of a delay are not representative of the land and water plan work programme that has been shared with councillors in public.’’
The Manuherikia part of the land and water plan, and the remaining freshwater management units in the plan, would be notified as part of the entire proposed plan in 2023.
- By Mary-Jo Tohill