Central Otago District Council to consider independent report into economic impact of ORC's proposed water plan changes
Concerns over the economic impact of proposed water changes to a Central Otago catchment has sparked the district council to intervene.
The Central Otago District Council wants to commission its own economic impact study on proposed new minimum flow settings for the Manuherikia River.
The Otago Regional Council is currently consulting on a proposed plan change for the Manuherikia catchment which will establish new minimum flows and allocation limit.
In a report to the CODC, economic development manager Warwick Hawker says the public do not have an "informed view" of suggested minimum flow options unless they have "robust data" regarding the economic impacts when they make submissions during the consultation process.
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The CODC wants to address this by commissioning its own economic impact study on proposed minimum flow options.
There was "considerable disquiet" in the Manuherikia catchment's pastoral farming and horticulture communities about the ORC's suggested minimum flows, Hawker says.
Questions have also been raised about the viability of the Manuherikia Catchment Water Strategy Group's (MCWSG) community water project.
"Pastoral farming, horticulture and viticulture are key drivers of the Central Otago economy. In 2016 the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector was worth $163.8 million and directly accounted for 17.2 per cent of the region's GDP and 22.9 per cent of employment. Indirectly this sector also supported other economic activity and employment in the district. It is questionable whether these sectors could continue to be economically viable if they do not have access to reliable irrigation through the dry Central Otago growing season."
Suggested minimum flow levels are detailed in an ORC document ranging from 1250 litres per second in summer to 4000 litres per second in winter, the report says.
The ORC has yet to prepare an evaluation report which would detail benefits, costs and risks to the community, economy and environment. The report will not be commissioned until the ORC has identified its preferred minimum flow regime, the report says.
According to irrigators, the lowest proposed summer flow is not achievable in dry years and the lowest proposed winter flow could result in the existing Falls Dam not being able to be filled in winter. This would place limits on irrigation during the summer.
Irrigators who need to finance the construction of a new dam as part of the MCWSG's scheme, will not be willing to proceed unless there is certainly of supply of sufficient water, he says.
There is a risk a CODC-commissioned report may conflict with regional council information. Nevertheless, Hawker proposes a "reputable company" undertake the work and the ORC could contribute the the cost of the initial report and use the same data to meet their legislative requirements, he says.
Manuherikia Catchment Water Strategy Group chairman Allan Kane said he strongly supported the district council's proposal to commission the report.
"I think as a strategy group we have looked at the economic effect of increasing the area of irrigation along with other benefits of more water. What has not been looked at is the economic impact of a reduction in the amount of water available for the catchment, which if some of the ORC's options were put into effect, would have quite significant economic impact on the district."
The entire community needed to be aware of the impacts when weighing up and submitting on what the minimum flow should be, he said.
The recommendation will be considered at the Central Otago District Council meeting on Wednesday.
An Otago Regional Council spokesman said the executive were unavailable to comment on Friday as they were in an all-day meeting. The council would respond on Monday.