ORC chairman taken to task

SHARE

A dispute surrounding Lake Hawea water levels continues to escalate, with the Upper Clutha Farmers Group stating it was “purposely misled” by Otago Regional Council chairman Stephen Woodhead during a meeting last month.

In a scathing statement issued by lawyer Michael Walker, the group said it had “not dismissed the possibility of legal action” against the ORC following a meeting between the group, Contact Energy, the ORC and Queenstown Lakes District Council.

Mr Woodhead says he was misunderstood at the meeting and has since apologised.

The group says Contact Energy has been continually running Lake Hawea at close to the minimum level, which has caused some bores around the district to dry up.

“There was information presented at the meeting that bores that had never run dry in 60 years were bone dry six weeks ago and clearly there was a correlation between lower operating levels of Lake Hawea for longer periods of time having a direct impact on these bores,” the group said.

“Before this meeting, the Upper Clutha farming community had not been irrigating at all for five months.”

Contact Energy is required to maintain the level of Lake Hawea between 338m and 345m above sea level, although water levels can be exceeded if the Electricity Commission deems additional electricity is required or for flood management purposes.

Between the start of May and the middle of September, the level of the lake was below 340m, falling to 338.5m in July. The October meeting was held to discuss the effects of lower lake levels, but the farmers group has since taken aim at Mr Woodhead, citing concerns over the ORC’s governance.

“At the meeting, Stephen Woodhead assured the UCFG and all other parties that the ORC had, in May of this year, conducted a review of the Contact Energy consent to dam the waters of Lake Hawea as is required by the conditions of that consent,” the group said.

“Following the meeting, the UCFG made an information request to the ORC relating to the alleged review of the consent and all materials pertaining to the same.

“It now transpires the ORC review did not take place and the chairman had clearly been wrong and misled the meeting on 13 October 2017.”

According to the group, water flows into Lake Hawea have been continually reducing over the past 17 years, with particularly significant reductions over the past four years.

“This information appeared to be completely inconsistent with the ORC’s decision not to review the consent, which would have reduced the effects Contact’s operation has had on the environment and other water users,” the group said.

The group also cited concerns about the “adequacy of the information that the ORC, as the regulator, is basing its decisions on relating to the consented operating levels and the impact that is having on the bores running dry in the Hawea Flat residential community.”

In a statement, Mr Woodhead said the ORC was seeking “productive and honest” relationships with stakeholders and he apologised if he had been “misunderstood”.

“In discussions about Lake Hawea water issues it has come to ORC’s attention that certain stakeholders felt they were misled or ignored.

“It was not our intention and we believe that this issue may have been the result of a misunderstanding.”