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Hurunui water take frozen for 14 months

Wednesday 21st July 2010

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No new water allocation from the Hurunui River catchment will be allowed before October next year, under a moratorium announced this morning by Environment Minister Nick Smith and the chair of the Environment Canterbury commissioners, Dame Margaret Bazley. 

In a move welcomed by the Environmental Defence Society, Bazley sought the moratorium to provide "breathing space" for a collaborative approach with competing claimants on the Hurunui catchment, where a major irrigation scheme is proposed.

The Hurunui has become a lightning rod for water politics, the largest current issue in Canterbury according to recent polling, and follows anger that the appointment of ECan commissioners cancelled an existing Water Conservation Order, which gave the river status equivalent to a national park, and forced a rehearing of the whole WCO application.

At the same time, backers of the Hurunui Water Project, which seeks water storage on both arms of the river to irrigate 42,000 hectares of surrounding farmland, continue to pursue resource consent for their plan.

Notes to Smith's announcement today say could be inconsistent with the Canterbury Water Management Strategy - a widely endorsed document that continues to guide the commissioners' approach to freshwater management in the heavily allocated Canterbury region - because of the river's "very high ecological and cultural values."

"However, to make that assessment without full detail of the proposal and discussion with the applicants and others is premature," the commissioners say. "One of the benefits of a moratorium is that it could guarantee that the Hurunui Water Project consents ... are heard against a planning framework (either a regional plan or a WCO) that has taken account of the CWMS vision and principles."

Currently, only 10,000 hectares are irrigated from the Hurunui, which is considered already to be heavily allocated.

The moratorium requires a rubber stamp from the commissioners at a meeting tomorrow, and is proposed to run from July 23 to October 1, 2011.

It made "good sense when there is no proper plan for the river and catchment," said Smith, who described potential for "a legal mess and a procedural nightmare" to have decisions on the Hurunui Water Project considered separately from the proposed WCO and plan for the river.

The first in a series of water zone committees was appointed this week for the Hurunui-Waiau catchment, and the task of assessing a plan for the catchment will fall to them.

One alternative plan in play already is the use of water from both the Waiau and Hurunui rivers to irrigate the Domett and Amuri plains, with a report due from ECan on that proposal by the end of this month.

Environmental Defence Society director Gary Taylor said the announcement was "very good news."

"The impression I have is that everybody keeps their heads, there is a plumbing outcome for the Hurunui that can leave the natural and recreational features of the river intact while providing water for irrigation," he said. The moratorium created time for a collaborative process to work.

Businesswire.co.nz



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