Consents hearing for Cass River plan begins

RACHEL YOUNG
Last updated 07:44 21/02/2013

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A plan to irrigate a large amount of North Canterbury land will not harm the environment and may even improve it, the company behind it says.

This week, an Environment Canterbury (ECan) hearing began on whether P&E Ltd will be granted 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.

The company owns more than 550 hectares near Lake Grasmere. The land it wishes to irrigate is on both sides of State Highway 73, just east of Arthur's Pass National Park.

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

During the hearing's first day, P&E Ltd director Pete Morrison said farms would benefit from irrigation as it would allow for better pasture production and stock food.

The company planned to change irrigation setback distances to a minimum of 24 metres from Lake Grasmere.

Some fences, which mark the irrigation setback, at present sit about 18m away.

"I understand that these will avoid the risk of overland flow of nutrient-rich surface water into the lake and nutrient uptake from shallow groundwater that flows in the lake. This is a significant improvement."

Former president of the New Zealand Institute of Agricultural Science Les Bennetts said irrigation schemes had operated previously in the area with no recorded complaints about the state of Lake Grasmere or Cass River or any adverse effects on the natural character of the Waimakariri Basin.

"With an efficient overhead spray irrigation system the farm could be a highly productive unit, with good and effective ground cover, that would not detract from but enhance the visual scenic corridor of the Waimakariri Basin."

Yesterday submitters, including the University of Canterbury, Fish & Game and Forest & Bird spoke.

Forest & Bird's Canterbury-West Coast field officer Jen Miller's written submission said the organisation opposed the proposal because it lacked information about the impacts of the intensified land use.

There were concerns that more effluent and nitrates could leach into waterways.

Fish & Game's submission stated it was concerned about water quality and how fish stock would be hit by the increased water take.

More submissions will be heard today, including from Ngai Tahu and Central Plains and Waimakariri Irrigation.

The hearing is expected to finish tomorrow.

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- The Press

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