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Waikouaiti Rivers Flows Decision Disappoints Fish & Game

Waikouaiti Rivers Flows Decision Disappoints Fish & Game

Otago Fish & Game Council is disappointed in a recent Otago Regional Council (ORC) decision to grant a consent to take water from the Waikouaiti River with a residual flow of only 170 litres per second to protect instream values during summer low flow periods. The residual flow is the point at which irrigation takes must cease.

Fish & Game had sought a higher residual flow of 320 litres/second as a precautionary move because the consent application comes immediately in advance of ORC’s plans to set a minimum flow for the whole river.

Niall Watson, chief executive of Otago Fish & Game says "We are not opposed to irrigation but believe it is essential the river ecosystem, its trout and whitebait fisheries, its recreational values and estuary health are properly provided for." Mr Watson also says the river has a history of concerns over low summer flows, weed growth and problems with estuary water quality and odours and it is important that any further incremental changes in river health are improvements.

The application was not publicly notified and Fish & Game was the only objector from the affected parties identified by ORC. “That may be because the application was originally portrayed as a straight transfer of two existing water takes to a single new location without any increase in water taken or adverse effects, but that changed prior to the hearing. By then a new consent was proposed with new conditions of use.”

Evidence presented at the hearing clearly showed that the actual use of water for irrigation has been less than the face value of existing consents and that the actual water taken from the river was to increase with a shift in the point of take.

Allocating water during the summer low flow period puts the river ecosystem and fisheries values under increasing pressure at a time of the year when it is already stressed by high water temperatures and reduced fish habitat availability.

Fish & Game is concerned that ORC is cutting flow recommendations for rivers to the bone rather than aiming to maintain healthy river ecosystems, fisheries and recreational values.

“We are also upset that the affected river reach was described by ORC as supporting a low value trout fishery. That is not a logical conclusion from the available evidence especially in a river where migratory trout move between the estuary and the river upstream."

No decision has yet been made by Fish & Game on whether to appeal to the Environment Court. "We have to properly digest the decision before we consider any further action but the granting of a consent could trigger infrastructure development that would influence any future minimum flow debate." adds Mr Watson.


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