Waitaki River level criticised

DANIEL BIRCHFIELD
Last updated 05:00 20/08/2014
waitaki river
JOHN BISSET/ Fairfax NZ
BRAIDED: The Waitaki River

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Despite pleas from the Lower Waitaki River Management Society, the Waimate District Council favours changes to the Waitaki Catchment Water Allocation Regional Plan.

The council will submit in support of the changes, which include adjusting minimum flow, mahinga kai allocation, and recognition of hydro-electric activities.

At yesterday's council meeting, members of the society voiced their concerns over the planned drop of the minimum flow of the Lower Waitaki River from 150 to 102 cumecs, to allow earlier or prior resource holders to retain their priority position to access water.

"The society considers the proposed Plan Change Three to be a short-sighted and misguided option to support. That's if you get your head around it," chairman Ian McIlraith said while addressing councillors.

In the past the river wasn't "subject to the same pressures" as it is now.

He said there were no irrigation abstractions, no need for dilution of nutrients and no sport fish requiring spawning habitat.

He added there was no didymo problem and in the past there were not as many visitors, boaters and fishermen being lured back year after year as there was now.

Society member Dugald MacTavish said resource consent for putting in place the 102 cumec minimum flow should wait until 2025, when Meridian Energy's consent comes up for renewal.

"At the moment they only have to put 120 cumecs through the Waitaki Dam. It's impossible to implement the part of the plan to get that 150 cumecs."

John McDonald, who jet boats on the river, said he saw the effects of a drop in flow around 2002 and described it as frightening.

"We saw the river drop quite dramatically ... we had a tough job getting the boat into the water because it wasn't there."

Environment Canterbury commissioner Tom Lambie felt the two parties had "common ground".

"What the zone committee has attempted to do is put together a balanced package that reflects what the community would like and what could benefit the river. There are very few times it gets down to a low level.

"It's a river that is a very big river with a lot of water going down it and it's only [being lowered] at certain times," Lambie said.

McIlraith said the council's decision was "disappointing".

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- The Timaru Herald

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