Revised project offers many benefits

Last updated 11:42 12/09/2012

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OPINION: The solution to North Canterbury's water needs has been delivered by a revamped Hurunui Water Project, writes Amanda Loeffen.

After a strong public reaction to our original water storage proposal in 2009, Hurunui Water Project (HWP) has taken some time out to reconsider the design of the scheme.

In good faith we chose to work with the new collaborative process developing under the Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS). It is a new way of working for farmers, environmentalists and recreational users who had previously debated water management through litigation, and it took a lot of trust and genuine goodwill to move forward.

Three years on, with significant new research under our belt and new relationships forged under the CWMS, Hurunui Water Project has developed an alternative water storage scheme for the Hurunui community.

Last weekend, Environment Canterbury notified our resource consent applications to take, use, dam and discharge water from the Hurunui and Waitohi rivers and we invite you to have a look at our proposal.

The Waitohi Irrigation and Hydro Scheme (WIHS) is HWP's new solution to the current water shortage in North Canterbury.

For more than a decade farmers in North Canterbury have struggled to make a living as regular drought and limited irrigation have constrained productivity.

Moving away from the original Lake Sumner/South Branch proposal, HWP has developed a scheme that is more widely supported.

Focusing on a smaller tributary of the Hurunui River - the Waitohi - this scheme will have recognisably less impact on the cultural, environmental and recreational values of both the Hurunui and Waitohi rivers.

To reach this position, HWP has worked alongside the Hurunui Waiau Zone Committee to address the different needs Cantabrians have for our waterways.

The proposed reservoir will be eight kilometres long, with a high dam tucked between a narrow gap in the hills in the upper reaches of the Waitohi River.

Water will be pumped over the hill from the main Hurunui River into Hurricane Gully, avoiding inundation of areas of high environmental and cultural significance.

There will also be a series of three lower dams down the length of the Waitohi River for hydro generation and additional storage.

To meet the Hurunui Waiau Zone Committee's vision, the scheme has been expanded to nearly 60,000 hectares, to allow irrigation of all potentially productive land in the district and effectively 'future proofing' the scheme.

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The cost of pumping will be offset by energy production, and the combination of smaller dams allows for graduated staging of irrigation, as well as becoming a cost-effective mechanism for capturing energy.

The scheme will cost $100 million more than the original proposal due to its complexity and scale. It is the price that HWP recognises it needs to pay for the project to be consented with community support. This has been a huge hurdle for the farmers to contemplate, and we have had to establish if the scheme is really affordable at this price.

For North Canterbury's already stretched dryland farmers, the initial investment is enormous, and landowners will have to take a multi-generational view of the investment.

The gains are vast and can't be understated. Reliable irrigation will allow the Hurunui District to become more sustainable as an agricultural area. Jobs will be created, rural contracting and service providers will prosper and Christchurch will benefit from the flow-on effects of a large infrastructural project that is just 100km north of the city.

North Canterbury townships will experience population growth to support local schools, sports clubs and community groups. All of this will breathe new life into struggling rural communities in the northern half of the region, while ensuring wider Canterbury has another avenue for much-needed economic growth and revival.

Looking back to where we have come from, HWP has much to be proud of and plenty to look forward to.

When I started as project manager four years ago, the emphasis was on trying to get resource consent for our water storage proposal and the process was both combative and litigious.

By stepping back from the courts and taking the time to work through the concerns of affected parties, HWP has finally delivered a scheme with wide community support.

- The Press

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