Wellington, July 22 NZPA - Irrigation NZ (INZ) has welcomed the moratorium placed on new major irrigation consents on Canterbury's Hurunui River yesterday, saying it was commonsense where no proper water plan exists.
Environment Canterbury commissioners requested the moratorium from Environment Minister Nick Smith and he approved it on new water takes from the river and its tributaries from Friday until October 1 next year.
In a letter to Dr Smith chairwoman Dame Margaret Bazley said the Hurunui catchment did not meet criteria in the Environment Canterbury Act, it faced increasing demand, was nearing full allocation and in lower reaches suffered diminished water quality.
She said the river and tributaries were subject to multiple and overlapping statutory processes.
Dr Smith said the purpose of the moratorium was to enable a comprehensive plan to be put in place for the Hurunui ahead of major consents being considered.
INZ chairman Graeme Sutton said that would allow the Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS) to address the future of the Hurunui River in a community-focused plan.
INZ describes itself as the leading representative body for the irrigation sector, with more than 3500 members.
Mr Sutton said with no plan the current situation was messy and not likely to achieve a process that could balance all community needs.
He expressed concern over water conservations orders in respect to their effectiveness and relevance: "It could be fair to say conservation orders are outdated and would not be the right vehicle to set water allocation".
Irrigation NZ believed water allocation and limits should be set by the Natural Resources Regional Plan (NRRP) taking into account the wider balancing act in terms of sustainable environmental, social and economic community outcomes.
Consents for a massive 42,000 hectare water project, a water conservation order and the natural resources regional plan were all being considered simultaneously.
"This Government is committed to developing the irrigation potential of the Hurunui River, but it wants to ensure that this is done in a careful and balanced way," Dr Smith said.
Green Party co-leader Russel Norman welcomed the moratorium but said a water conservation order was needed.
"The people of Canterbury do not want their rivers drained and polluted."
Labour MP Brendon Burns said the moratorium was inevitable.
People in Canterbury were concerned about increased contamination of waterways from industrial agriculture, he said.
"Dr Smith is playing for time with the Hurunui moratorium which runs, conveniently, until around the time of next year's election."
United Future leader Peter Dunne said the moratorium gave recreational users more opportunity to have their say on the river's future.