New river regime looms

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Manuherikia basin residents are nervous and uncertain about the setting of a minimum flow for the Manuherikia River, but it is hoped a new regime will result in a greater understanding by all affected parties, Otago Regional Council director of policy planning and resource management Fraser McRae says.
The ORC last week hosted three drop-in sessions in Alexandra, Omakau and Oturehua about the proposal to set a minimum flow for the river. The move will set a new regime for the river after historic mining rights that provided water takes for farmers and irrigators expire in 2021.
Mr McRae said there was a good awareness among farmers about the looming changes, but uncertainty and nervousness, too. The general public was less aware of the issue, but awareness was growing, as was uncertainty and nervousness.
‘‘On the one hand you’ve got someone who wants to be able to take their kids swimming at the Shaky Bridge, but on the other you’ve got somebody up the valley who has had a right to irrigation water and that right needs to be replaced, but it won’t be replaced exactly, like for like.’’
The ORC realised the Manuherikia River was already overallocated, and the changing of water permits and the setting of a minimum flow for the river were among the biggest changes to affect the Manuherikia basin, Mr McRae said.
‘‘It’s a major event.’’
Although there had been various information sessions and presentations with Manuherikia farmers, last week’s drop-in sessions were the first round of consultation with the wider public, Mr McRae said.
People had a ‘‘great willingness’’ to discuss the issue with the ORC, and ‘‘some great, diverse conversations’’ had ensued, he said.
Most of the people attending the sessions had been farmers, but there had been significant groups of non-farmers, too. All wanted information about what the future might hold, and the ORC was keen to provide more certainty for farmers in particular, who needed to plan their business decisions in advance.
‘‘We’ve certainly got the message that the community is looking for clarity going forward.’’
There had been some ‘‘antidairying’’ sentiment from those at the drop-in sessions, and even an acknowledgment from some farmers that dairying used more water than traditional sheep and beef farming, he said.
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The ORC could not tell people what they could or could not farm, but would have the power to decide how much water an irrigator could take from the river, which might indirectly affect what kind of farming was possible, Mr McRae said.
Another two rounds of public consultation would be held this year but, whatever minimum flow was eventually set, it was hoped it would promote a greater understanding of the values of the river, he said.
‘‘We hope that what we come up with is understood and accepted by the community.’’
Mr McRae did not wish to comment on an announcement from Tarras farmers last week that they would appeal the minimum flow the ORC had set for the Lindis River.
Twenty-six members of the Lindis Catchment Group voted last week to appeal the decision to set a minimum flow rate for the Lindis River catchment of 900 litres per second from October 1 to May 31 every year