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Mackenzie Basin water users agree to work together

Media Release 20 September 2004

Mackenzie Basin water users agree to work together

The major water users in the Mackenzie Basin, Meridian Energy and farmers have agreed to begin negotiations on how irrigation can be provided to farmers in the upper Waitaki catchment. They will also seek to negotiate a common approach to water allocation in the Upper Waitaki catchment.

A successful outcome to discussions would result in a joint presentation to the Waitaki Catchment Water Allocation Board to seek inclusion of the agreed approach in the Waitaki River Regional Plan.

Representatives of upper Waitaki farming interests and Meridian Energy, have agreed that a common approach is likely to achieve the best outcome for the Mackenzie basin community. “What binds us together is our long-term commitment to this unique part of New Zealand,” says Keith Turner, Chief Executive of Meridian Energy. “We must make sure that the management of the water resource of the catchment strengthens those bonds, rather than weakens them.”

Denis Fastier, spokesman for the Mackenzie basin farming groups, acknowledges that water allocation has been a contentious issue between the parties. “Clearly Meridian Energy and the local irrigation interests have had significant differences of opinion. As farmers, we believe that getting water on to the land is vital to protecting this unique environment and ensuring the survival and future prosperity of the basin. I believe that with goodwill and hard work we can resolve our differences in a way that meets everybody’s aspirations, now and in the future.”

Mr Fastier says that his priority is to build a broad-based community group to ensure any agreement has long-term support from the Mackenzie basin community. “Certainty and durability of rights are critical elements in water management, where large investments in fixed assets are required, whether it is for irrigation or hydro generation. I believe that only a broad-based agreement will deliver certainty and durability.”

A new company, Mackenzie Irrigation Company Limited, has been formed as a vehicle for the discussions with Meridian Energy. Mr Fastier says the company will need a mandate from the community and the outcome of the talks would be subject to agreement by the community and consultation with other stakeholders.

As a result of the agreement, the Mackenzie Basin farming interest have decided to
withdraw from litigation with Meridian Energy, including the High Court action initiated by the Aoraki Water Trust. “Discussion and negotiation are always preferable to litigation, and I am delighted that the agreement opens up a new way forward for the whole community, including Meridian Energy,” said Mr Fastier.

Dr Turner acknowledged the dedication and commitment of the Mackenzie Basin farming interests. “The formalisation of this process will result in robust discussions, but I also believe they will be positive and creative.”

ENDS

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