Irrigation plan stirs instant opposition

A $185 million proposal to take water from Lake Tekapo and irrigate 25,000 hectares of farmland has been rolled out.

Representatives from Opuha Water, Meridian and Genesis Energy addressed the Upper Waitaki Zone Water Management Committee yesterday.

Opuha Water outlined a concept to take water from Tekapo via Burkes Pass and Ashwick Flats to the Opuha Dam and on to new and existing irrigation schemes between Fairlie and Pareora.

The project could include a canal and tunnel from Lake Tekapo capable of carrying up to 15 cumecs of water.

Opuha Water chief executive Tony McCormick said the concept was about solving water storage problems and was feasible by using gravity.

"Lake Tekapo sits at 700 metres, Opuha at 380 metres and Burkes Pass at 409 metres.

"The key element is a canal from Tekapo to Burkes Pass; the other one is Ashwick Flat races."

The third element would be a lift into the Pareora catchment to provide opportunity for new irrigation, he said.

"It's based on a concept that we can lift water from Lake Opuha and push it into Pareora."

Genesis Energy regulatory affairs manager Jeremy Stevenson-Wright said his main concern was the reduction of water available for hydro generation.

"We're very concerned with anything that might affect the safety of our scheme. There are issues with taking water out of this catchment that need to be addressed."

Meridian consent manager Jeff Page said the project did not have his support.

"We won't support it because the Waitaki power scheme is a fundamental part of New Zealand's power generation. Tekapo water is the most valuable; we're well aware of irrigation demand.

"Let's see if we can use water at the end of the chain; if we start taking water out at the top end there will be winners and losers."

Committee members asked what studies had been made into what the farming sector was doing in terms of increased water demand.

"It is generally accepted that South Canterbury is short of water; there is the option to make water go further," Mr McCormick responded.

The group agreed that irrigation, economic and environmental options all had to be weighed up.

"We've got a west, north and south option, we've got to weigh them all up," Mr McCormick said.

"The next step is an option for getting more water into what is a water short catchment."

The Timaru Herald