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Moratorium on Hurunui consents

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, July 21 NZPA - A moratorium has been placed on new major irrigation consents on Canterbury's Hurunui River.

Environment Canterbury commissioners put the request to Environment Minister Nick Smith and he approved a moratorium on new water takes from the river and its tributaries from Friday until October 1 next year.

In a letter to Dr Smith on Monday commissioner 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.

The decision comes as a consent was sought for The Hurunui Water Project to store water in the north and south branches of the Upper Hurunui for irrigation of 42,000 ha.

Consents presently run parallel with the Water Conservation Order and the Natural Resources Regional Plan and there is potential for them to either undermine or duplicate decisions.

Dame Margaret said ideally the Hurunui catchment should be dealt with by a single Resource Management Act planning document.

Dr Smith said: "It would be a legal mess and a procedural nightmare to have decisions on the massive 42,000 hectare Hurunui Water Project being considered separately from the proposed water conservation order and plan for the river."

The moratorium was needed until a proper plan for the river and catchment could be made.

Cabinet and Caucus approved the move and the commissioners would make the final decision on the moratorium at a special council meeting tomorrow, he said.

The moratorium would be the first use of special powers under the Environment Canterbury Act (2010). There have been tensions and protests over the sacking of the Environment Canterbury's (Ecan) council and replacement with commissioners.

"(The) moratorium reinforces the Government's intent that irrigation development in Canterbury needs to occur in a planned and sustainable way," Dr Smith said.

The moratorium will not affect takes for reasonable domestic needs, animals' drinking water or fire fighting because those activities do not require consent. People with consents that come up for renewal during the moratorium are entitled to continue to take water.

Facts about the river:

* The Hurunui River is one of seven major alpine rivers within the Canterbury region. From the headwaters in the Southern Alps, the Hurunui River flows through alpine lakes (Lake Sumner on the North Branch) and alpine foot hills before emerging at the Mandamus confluence to cross the Amuri Plains. The braided river then flows through the Lowry Peaks Gorge before crossing the Domett Plains and flowing into the sea near Cheviot, about 200 kilometres from its source.

* Main recreational uses are fishing and kayaking.

* Existing consents to take water from the river are predominantly for irrigation (of around 10,000 hectares). There are also consents for stock water and for Hurunui District Council's public water supply.

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