Plan change hurdle for Benmore farmers upbeat irrigation appeal will go their way
Benmore Irrigation Company (BIC) general manager Barry Shepherd is confident the company will win an appeal against an Environment Canterbury decision to not grant it resource consent for irrigation expansion in the Mackenzie Country.
Scheme shareholders want to increase their irrigating area of 3666 hectares of land to the south of Twizel to 7658ha.
However, the appeal comes on the back of the Mackenzie District Council's (MDC) defence of it's Plan Change 13 for land use in the Mackenzie Basin, the latest version of which is before the Environment Court in Christchurch. Environment Canterbury (ECan) will give the final word on whether the plan can go ahead.
Plan Change 13, which would introduce land-use restrictions intended to protect the basin's natural values, had received widespread criticism from local farmers.
"Our chances [of winning the appeal] are very good as we have all our ducks in a line," Shepherd said.
"We have new moisture metering and water measurement technology ready to go for the next season.
"We will be using the same amount of water for twice as much land and using it more efficiently. As it is we are only using half of our allocated 51,626,000 cubic metres of water. Shareholder numbers will stay the same at eight."
Farmers have accused the plan change of being too restrictive as they are already protecting the landscape's natural values and it valued the "protection of tourism at the expense of farming."
Some of the proposed restrictions included stronger rules on wilding pines, limits on pastoral intensification in certain areas and restrictions on new buildings.
Federated Farmers said the plan change was an example of an increasing number of "compliance hoops" farmers were being forced to jump through.
Mackenzie District Council lawyer David Caldwell said Plan Change 13 was not "locking up the basin" for farming but protecting its natural landscape values for everyone to benefit.
BIC lawyer Ewan Chapman said the company was appealing on the basis the commissioners did not address the application for nutrient discharge.
"Environment Canterbury is progressively requiring every farmer to hold a nutrient allocation and you can hold these individually or as a group. BIC applied on behalf of all farmers in the scheme to get a nutrient allocation" he said.
"BIC is applying to use water efficiently but over a greater area and importantly within the nutrient baseline."
BIC applied for resource consent to increase its irrigated footprint from 3666ha to 7658ha in 2015.
A hearing was held in Omarama last year and in December the application was declined due to the effects on the landscape, water quality and local ecology.
The application was supported by Federated Farmers High Country Accord, but there were 21 submissions, including a report from ECan, opposed to the plan.
The commissioners said that "while there might be some economic benefits...the adverse effects are significant."
They added that "there was a high potential risk of further degradation of localised water quality which would have a cumulative impact on water quality in Lake Benmore."
"Overall, while there may be some minor economic benefits and potentially environmental benefits in terms of soil erosion and control of weed species but the adverse effects are significant," the commissioners' report said.
"We agree that bare ground, stony and/or depleted areas are an inherent characteristic of the Mackenzie Basin's alluvial and moraine ecosystems and that they provide important habitats for a distinctive suite of indigenous plant and invertebrate species including many rare and threatened species.
"No mitigation or offset has been proffered to avoid or compensate for the direct and total loss of at least 1250ha of significant ecological values," they said.