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Hurunui River threatened by dam proposal

Thursday, March 14, 2002- Christchurch

MEDIA RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE USE

Hurunui River threatened by dam proposal

Conservationists are concerned that irrigation developers are eyeing up their third major Canterbury river in as many months. Developers in the Hurunui District today announced a proposal to dam the Hurunui River for irrigation. Resource consents have already been lodged to take large volumes from the Rakaia and Waimakariri Rivers.

"The upper Hurunui River above the Culverden Plains is a wild and scenic river. It contains one of the major gorges in the Canterbury Region and is important for recreation, particularly kayaking. The proposal to dam the Hurunui is completely inappropriate," said Forest and Bird researcher Geoff Keey.

Environment Canterbury is proposing to prohibit dams on rivers such as the Hurunui River through its Natural Resources Regional Plan, currently in draft form.

"The public should take heed and make submissions on the draft Natural Resources Regional Plan. It is important that Environment Canterbury gets the message that harmful schemes like this one are unacceptable," Geoff Keey said.

The Hurunui Irrigation and Power Trust today announced their plans to develop a multi-million dollar irrigation and hydroelectric scheme for the Hurunui River. The Trust is led by engineer Max Smith.

"The lower Hurunui River is already over-abstracted because of excessive irrigation and polluted," Geoff Keey said.

In 1980, the North Canterbury Catchment Board noted the high quality of the Hurunui River below the confluence with the Mandamus and stated that "it is not expected that this high standard of water quality will deteriorate." At that time there were no major irrigation schemes in the catchment.

"Water quality sampling by Environment Canterbury and NIWA has shown that water quality in the lower river has deteriorated in recent years. The water and habitat quality of the lower river has declined since irrigation schemes developed and agriculture intensified," Geoff Keey said.

"This trend will continue if further abstraction is allowed. This scheme should be abandoned for environmental reasons."

"Proposals like this are partly a result of Environment Canterbury's failure to prepare a regional water plan fast enough. Because of a vacuum in regional planning, irrigators are proposing schemes that are environmentally unacceptable," Geoff Keey said.

Ends

Contact: Geoff Keey, Researcher - phone 03 366 6317 (w) or 03 366 0655 (w) or 03 365 9455 (h). Eric Pyle, Conservation Manager - phone 04 385 7374 work; 025 227 8420.

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