In May the Otago Regional Council (ORC) announced, after working with the community, the Manuherikia Reference Group (MRG), and Ngai Tahu it had developed five scenarios for managing the Manuherikia River.
There was disappointment on both sides after the release of the five minimum flow options that range incrementally from 1200 litres per second (option one) up to 3000 litres per second (option five).
The regional council document states at 3000 litres per second, there are clear benefits for ecosystem health, swimming, mahika kai and mana whenua values, and fishing, but irrigation reliability ‘‘would be very poor’’ (73%-74%) and farm viability ‘‘would be severely stressed’’.
Regional councillor and Alexandra farmer Gary Kelliher expressed disappointment with the council and the Manuherikia Reference Group as they had not ‘‘really narrowed the gulf-sized chasm between environmental factions and the water users within the catchment, but have wasted an awful lot of time’’.
Seeking feedback on range was “nonsensical and misleading” and would not produce a fair result for all, he said.
It was a similar view but for different reasons from a Central Otago environmentalist.
Central Otago Environmental Society chairman Mike Riddell said none of the scenarios were favoured, but the society could consider supporting option five.
“This is the 3000 litres per second [minimum flow] option, which in our view is still inadequate. We would be hoping for 4000 litres per second, which is not even an option,” Mr Riddell said.
Mr Riddell was on the MRG.
Otago Fish and Game Council environmental officer Nigel Paragreen said setting minimum flows would not be easy but river health and wellbeing was the priority and it needed a greater share of water.
The Central Otago District Council entered the fray a week after the ORC announcement with a report detailing the negative economic and employment impacts of the five options.
The report by independent economist Benje Patterson is dated March 29 and was commissioned by the council.
In it, Mr Patterson said any changes to minimum flows “will alter farm-level practice for those reliant on irrigation, as well as have downstream influences on supply chains and household spending patterns”.
At the time, Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan said the issue was important, and at least 305 jobs were at stake.
“Please pause for a moment and think what else will change as a result of less employment [and] how will this affect populations in our smaller communities, school [rolls] and the availability of services.”
Mr Patterson said the impacts of any changes stretched beyond just those directly employed on farms, in a year of average rainfall, irrigated farmland in the Manuherikia catchment directly provided for $17.6million in GDP and 180 jobs.
This economic activity indirectly created an additional $10.2million in GDP and another 125 jobs in Central Otago. Horticulture and viticulture data would increase the figures, Mr Patterson said.
Heated public meetings in Alexandra and Omakau followed the next day and following day respectively, highlighting a community deeply divided and mistrustful of the ORC and the process.
Views aired ranged from concerns river wellbeing is being prioritised over people and communities and many alleged ORC data was “skewed” as most of the Manuherikia was healthy and only 30% was degraded.
Businesses were next off the mark last week with those involved in servicing the agricultural sector alleging heartland Central Otago’s economy and communities would be decimated if minimum flows for the river were raised and the ripple effect would be felt across the entire district.
Online consultation closes tomorrow, to make a submission go to: https://yoursay.orc.govt.nz/manuherekiascenarios