Irrigation plan 'threatens scenic corridor'

RACHEL YOUNG
Last updated 05:00 14/02/2013
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Resource consent is sought to irrigate more than 500 hectares of land in the upper Waimakariri Basin.

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A highly valued chunk of North Canterbury high country could become like the Canterbury Plains if an irrigation project goes ahead, opponents warn.

Environmental groups are decrying an application to irrigate more than 500 hectares of farmland in the upper Waimakariri Basin, claiming the dry high-country terrain would end up resembling the lush pastures of the Canterbury Plains, while water would be polluted and native vegetation destroyed.

Developer P&E Ltd admits the project would alter the landscape but says it would not harm it and might even improve water quality.

It has applied for resource consents to divert, take and use water from the Cass River for spray-irrigation of pasture for grazing sheep and beef cattle for 35 years and to disturb the bed of the river at the diversion point.

The land in question is on both sides of State Highway 73, just east of Arthur's Pass National Park.

Opponents of the application say increased irrigation and stock numbers will compromise Lake Grasmere and its tributaries' water quality, and change the landscape along the highway.

P&E director Liz Nattrass said the water would be monitored to ensure there was no drop in quality.

"We want to leave a legacy of good-quality water and improve it if we can."

The physical landscape would change, she said, but that was part of owning a viable working farm.

"Irrigation is happening everywhere,'' she said. "It's just one of those things."

Green Party MP Eugenie Sage said Environment Canterbury had identified the high country as a "scenic corridor", so should protect it.

"Irrigation and more intensive farming would compromise the area's outstanding landscape values, see distinctive native vegetation such as matagouri shrublands cleared and overload Lake Grasmere with nutrients."

The "domestification" of irrigation and farming should not be allowed in the area.

"We should not even be having the consent hearing,'' she said.

"Intensive farming is completely inappropriate in this high-country setting, given the lake's existing high water quality and its vulnerability to pollution."

Forest & Bird Canterbury-West Coast field officer Jen Miller said irrigating more than 550 hectares would significantly alter the landscape.

Changing it from dry land with relatively low stocking rates to heavily stocked wetter land would hurt the environment, she said, particularly water quality, as more effluent and nitrates could leach into the waterways.

"Do we care about our natural places and are we happy to see them being significantly eroded? That's what is happening here," she said.

A hearing will be held from February 19 to 22 at the Lincoln Event Centre.

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- The Press

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