Irrigator battles TrustPower

DAVID WILLIAMS
Last updated 05:00 13/03/2012

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Canterbury irrigation heavyweight Central Plains Water (CPW) has moved to protect its water-take consents by objecting to proposals to alter the Rakaia River's water-conservation order.

Ironically, CPW could be one of the major beneficiaries of electricity company TrustPower's controversial plan, which would enable more water to be stored for irrigation on the plains, as well as electricity generation.

At a hearing yesterday before commissioners, CPW solicitor Rachel Dunningham said the company and trust had not been able to negotiate an agreement to use TrustPower's water.

CPW, potentially the Rakaia River's biggest user, was concerned it would have to pay for water that would otherwise have flowed down the river if the conservation order was not amended.

"Water which would have been released as part of TrustPower's normal operation and been available to be taken by irrigators in priority order could now be released as stored water for the benefit of just those on the [TrustPower water-take] register and to the detriment of those not on the register," she said.

"[CPW's] key reservation ... is the uncertainty about how the proposal could affect users who are not able or willing to reach commercial agreements with TrustPower."

Dunningham said CPW would support the change if there was a guarantee that its consents would not be undermined.

In May 2010, CPW was granted consents for its run-of-river irrigation scheme. Those consents, and a notice of requirement to compulsorily acquire land for its headrace canal and distribution network, are still under appeal but most are close to resolution.

CPW's scheme was pared back after commissioners indicated in 2009 that they would not grant consent for a proposed reservoir in the Waianiwaniwa Valley.

CPW project manager Derek Crombie said at yesterday's hearing that because the proposed reservoir had been scrapped, water storage was needed to improve the scheme's reliability.

Lake Coleridge was "the most realistic medium-term prospect", he said.

Up to 50 million cubic metres of water from Lake Coleridge could be available for CPW's use, which would be used to irrigate 20,000 hectares of farmland.

Further Coleridge water could enable another 20,000ha to be irrigated, he said.

CPW consultant Ian McIndoe, a soil and water engineer, said it was unrealistic to draw hard conclusions about the proposed changes on CPW's reliability, but he highlighted some potential impacts.

Whitewater NZ vice-president Graeme Wilson said that based on the information provided by TrustPower, there appeared to be few major impacts above the Rakaia Gorge bridge.

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TrustPower's proposal would include the construction of irrigation canals and power stations, which are expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

The proposed amendment is being heard by an Environment Canterbury-appointed panel under the same government legislation that sacked ECan councillors and replaced them with commissioners.

Under the act's provisions, ECan's recommendation to the environment minister on the water-conservation order amendments can be appealed to the High Court only on a point of law.

The hearing is scheduled to finish next Tuesday.

- The Press

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