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Water debate could threaten Aqua, warns Meridian

Water debate could threaten Aqua, warns Meridian

Delays in the process for securing consent for Project Aqua will put the 3000 GWh hydro development at risk, state-owned power generator Meridian Energy has warned in its annual report.

Meridian chairman Francis Small says the company has put in a great deal of effort on Project Aqua over the last year; completing much of the environmental investigation work, and consulting widely.

The project has moved from a pre-feasibility to a feasibility phase with the establishment of a dedicated project team.

He says the key to its progress now is securing consent.

Initially the company was operating under the provisions of the Resource Management Act, but the Ministry for the Environment has ³called in² the key consents for the project in an attempt to put the consenting process on hold while it formulates a water allocation plan for the Waitaki catchment.

Dr Small says Project Aqua has highlighted the issue of competing uses for water, and the company is looking forward to participating in the consultation on water allocation.

However, he says Meridian is ³deeply concerned² that delays to the Aqua consent will put the project at risk.

³We recognise that irrigation is a major value driver in the farming sector and that the sector is important to New Zealand¹s economy. For this reason we have contributed to investigating water harvesting options and ways of working with irrigators to assist in the development of schemes.

³We consider that hydro and irrigation don¹t have to be mutually exclusive and that if worked through in a planned and integrated way, the two uses of water could be managed in a mutually beneficial way.

³Project Aqua is an example of this - we have made provision for irrigation water in our Project Aqua consent application, and have spent some $400,000 on irrigation scheme investigations over the past 12 months.²

But the company says irrigation has to be weighed against the critical role electricity plays in a modern society and economy, and its central contribution to New Zealand¹s health, education, welfare and economic growth.

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