River users’ case heard

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Maerewhenua River water users presented verbal submissions to an independent commissioner in Oamaru yesterday.

The hearings relate to a proposed plan change to the Waitaki Catchment Water Allocation Regional Plan, which is an operative document written by Environment Canterbury Regional Council.

The plan change seeks to address over-allocation in the Maerewhenua River, a tributary of the Lower Waitaki River. It clarifies that tributaries of the Maerewhenua River river are included in the current monitoring regime, it reduces the overall allocation limit and changes the point at which the minimum flow is measured.

The commissioner, Andrew Fenemor, was appointed to hear the submissions and make recommendations to the regional council.

Nine North Otago individuals and user groups presented submissions yesterday, and provided two expert witnesses to support their case. The experts were Dave Boraman (hydrology and flow measurement) and Keri Johnston (resource consents and water takes).

All submitters supported the reduction in allocation to prevent water being abstracted in the future. Most said that the movement of the minimal flow measurement pointed to Kelly’s Gully being a reflection of the status quo and that it was generally a better site.

Overall, there was good support for the three amendments to the council plan.

Today’s hearing is the near-end result of three years of negotiations and meetings between irrigators on the Maerewhenua River and regional council representatives in order to retain current irrigation takes.

To reduce water allocation on the river, upper end users initiated a proposal which could see two large dairy farms at the lower end irrigate out of the Waitaki River.

If the regional council approve the amended plan, this will result in a reduction in water takes on the Maerewhenua River from 640 litres per second to 200 litres per second.

The hearings were to continue today if more time was needed and then the regional council had the right of reply.

By LINDA MCCARTHY