Waitaki consent denials anger

Upper Waitaki farmers who have been denied irrigation consents say their future is in doubt.

An Environment Canterbury-appointed independent hearings panel declined at least nine companies their initial consent applications for irrigation this week, the first of a suite of decisions released as part of the Upper Waitaki hearings.

Two days after the announcement, some applicants expressed surprise and disgust at the outcome. Most have not said whether they would appeal the decision to the Environment Court.

Lilybank Station manager Rex Miles said the situation was a mess.

"We're still digesting what we're going to do next," he said.

"We will probably have to see how the rest of the decisions go, before we decide to appeal, but a lot of money has been spent to get us to this stage."

Lilybank Station Holdings applied for consents for land use and for spray irrigation of up to 172 hectares at the station. The land use consents were granted.

Mr Miles said the applications were merely for security of supply, and there was no plan to move into dairying. The station runs more than 2000 deer.

"The fact they allowed the land use consents, and not the irrigation consents, means it's a bit of a rigmarole."

ECan-appointed independent hearings commissioners Paul Rogers, James Cooke, Mike Bowden and Edward Ellison, in making the decision on Lillybank Holdings' application, said they were concerned that "to grant consent would not be safeguarding the life-supporting capacity of, principally, water, soil and ecosystems". The panel was also concerned about "some troubling landscape issues".

Upper Waitaki Irrigation Company co-director Justin Slee said he found the decisions "frankly unbelievable". The company applied to take water from Lake Waitaki at a maximum rate not exceeding 1450 litres per second to irrigate 1925ha.

However, the panel granted the consent for five, rather 30 years, and limited the rate the company was allowed to take to about 30 per cent of what it originally requested. The hearings commissioners were concerned about the company's "lack of modelling" and mitigation measures.

"The consent is for five years only. That doesn't give us any assurances. I'm bloody tired of decisions being made by people who don't live here, and know the area," Mr Slee said.

Mr Slee said he would consult with the other 62 shareholders, but already they were concerned about the "hundreds of thousands" they had to borrow or spend to get to this stage.

Central South Island Fish and Game chief executive Jay Graybill said the organisation was pleased with the panel's early decisions.

"It takes into account the cumulative effects on the catchment. Lake Benmore is the second-most fished lake in the country; and we know the practices of intensified farming often lead to sediment and nutrient-run-off, which finds its way into the water," Mr Graybill said.

The Upper Waitaki hearings concerned more than 100 consent applications, most of them to take water covering over 18,000ha. They were held from September 2009 to April last year. The proposals caused a major uproar, particularly after Southdown Holdings, Williamson Holdings and Five Rivers, proposed to house more than 16,000 cows in cubicles in the Ohau and Omarama basins.

Richard Peacocke, spokesman for three companies whose applications to collectively irrigate more than 5300ha of land have been turned down, has so far declined to comment. Further hearings decisions will be released before Christmas.

The Timaru Herald