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The Otago Regional Council (ORC) has answered criticism of its handling of the Manuherikia River minimum flows process and consultation as a public release of its findings looms.

The ORC is scheduled to release its summary of submissions tomorrow on an issue which has polarised the opinions of users and interest groups.

In a statement, ORC chairman Andrew Noone said it was important to understand the background.

In 2018, the ORC passed a resolution that any proposed minimum flow change needed to follow the full process outlined in the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management (NPSFM), including identifying appropriate Freshwater Management Units (FMUs), catchment management objectives, environmental flows and allocation limits.

This set in motion a process requiring data collection and modelling, all of which was dependent on time and season, he said.

After views were heard from parties, the ORC elected to consult them on the best procedure, resulting in the creation of the Manuherikia Reference Group (MRG) and Technical Advisory Groups.

The intent behind the MRG involve the community in discussions and work collectively to develop freshwater management options saw as crucial to the FMU process and development of its land and water regional plan, he said.

This enabled an increased level of understanding between the parties involved and was not only focused on finding “a solution”, Mr Noone said.

“This is important, given finding and implementing solutions for water quality and water quantity is a long-term challenge that will unfold over a span of years.”

The ORC was always looking to improve its approach to developing water management scenarios, and would take what was learned into future engagement with other FMUs and rohe, he said.

“The MRG discussions, along with community input, helped ORC develop the five scenarios for freshwater management in the Manuherikia that were tested with the wider community during the most recent consultation.”

Mr Noone said the frustration expressed by some parties was understandable but at all times it had been clear that the notification date for the Land and Water Plan was 2023.

“Therefore, time has been afforded to the MRG to ensure it has the best information, including science, to inform discussion and consideration of scenarios.”

The division in views had played out at every point in the process, something he said was not unexpected.

The Manuherikia was a highly complex catchment, with competing values and drivers and while every attempt had been made to narrow issues, the ORC understood it was the freshwater commissioners who would determine the way forward for the catchment based on science, the legislative framework and the NPSFM.

The ORC’s elected members were responsible for what went into the Land and Water Regional Plan for notification by the end of 2023, Mr Noone said.

“At which point there will be further opportunity for the public to have their say through the notification process and hearings.”