Ranger brands water report a failure

23:43, Dec 23 2013

Water users on the Waimea Plains will face large cuts to their permitted takes if the Lee Valley Community Dam is not built, the Tasman District Council has signalled.

In a separate development, Nelson-Marlborough Fish and Game ranger Lawson Davey has criticised an interim report from commissioners who heard submissions to proposed changes to the Waimea Water Management Plan as not offering enough protection for the Waimea River.

He said the partial minute from the commissioners offered no favours to the environment as there appeared to be no cease take extraction rules, meaning the river would run dry more often.

However, the commissioners indicated they could recommend permitted water users drought takes be rationed to as little as 30 per cent of impending new lower allocations, which will be based around crop and soil type and water use, if the Lee Valley Dam is not built.

The partial minute released last week by the commissioners only covered the no-dam scenario.

Chairman Philip Milne said he expected the final decision to be released by the end of next month.


Tasman District Council environment and planning manager Dennis Bush-King said all permits across the Waimea would expire in 2016/2017 when consents under the current transitional water management plan run their course.

Subsequent "actual or reasonable use assessments" will see permitted users' takes reviewed and re-allocated based on the water requirements of what they grow and the soil they work with.

The reassessments will help claw back some of the Waimea groundwater's over-allocation and could be a lot less then their current permitted water takes, he said.

Future rationing in times of drought, which will kick in to ensure the Waimea River continues to flow, will be based on those new lower water allocations, he said.

Permitted water users' takes currently can be cut in gradual stages of 80 per cent, 65 per cent and 50 per cent of their allocations.

The commissioners are considering recommending a further staged restriction of 30 to 35 per cent of a user's allocation be introduced at the district's Dry Weather Taskforce's discretion.

Mr Bush-King said the commissioners also signalled a shift for the Waimea Plains away from the current security of supply limit which, because of over-allocation, has not been achieved. They also declined Horticulture New Zealand's proposal that users be able to apply for discretionary takes when the river's level reaches minimum flows.

However, Mr Davey said from his reading of the minute the lack of a defined cease take for water extraction raised a lot of uncertainty around environmental effects. "The river can run dry if there is no shutoff and people can still take water."

He questioned what the commissioners were trying to achieve and said the partial minute appeared to lack any protection of natural instream values or irrigators' security of supply.

"It's a pretty disappointing interim decision and goes against what is trying to be achieved through the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management or the Land and Water Forum which both required hard limits.

"Those limits are there to protect environmental values.

"We will be no better off than we are now."

Mr Davey said when water users' permits were renewed, they should be reset at a limit to ensure there was water in the river.

"This decision fails everyone. We need production but the public expects there is always enough water in the river to sustain life and recreation."

Waimea Irrigators spokesman Brian Halstead said most of the 60 submitters requested a 500 litre per second minimum flow in the river and would be disappointed with the commissioner's recommended 800 litres per second level.

"It is also not clear in the minute at what level a cease take will be initiated," he said.

In addition there had been no assessment of the financial implications of the plan change on landowners as required under section 32 of the Resource Management Act. "And it appears there is to be no discussion with low or nil water users who fear their water rights will be terminated under the new allocation assessments.

"If landowners lose their water rights, they lose land value and this has not been brought out."

Mr Bush-King said the commissioners were still going through their process and their decision was part of the section 32 requirement. In regard to Mr Halstead's concerns about the potential loss of water rights by low or nil users, Mr Bush-King reiterated that there would be real consequences for all permitted water consent holders if the dam was not built.

Waimea Water Augmentation Committee chairman Murray King said life for irrigators under a "no-dam" scenario would be a lot harder for water users "but that is what we expected."

HortNZ president, and Waimea berry and dairy farmer, Julian Raine declined to comment as he had not seen the minute.