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Water allocation plan disastrous warns Meridian

Media Release
For immediate release: Monday 21 February 2005

Water allocation plan disastrous
for electricity supplies, warns Meridian

State-owned power company Meridian Energy warns a new water allocation plan for the Waitaki River threatens the efficient operation of a cornerstone of the country’s electricity supply.

The warning follows the weekend announcement of the draft water allocation plan by the Waitaki Catchment Water Allocation Board.

Chief Executive Keith Turner says not only does the plan threaten security of electricity supply in the South Island, it has serious implications for electricity supply over the whole country.

Dr Turner says the threat comes mainly from proposed new minimum flows on the lower Waitaki River, and by new minimum flows in the upper part of the catchment that have not been required in the past.

“The plan as it stands now would have a serious impact on the efficient operation of the Waitaki hydro chain, which supplies about a quarter of the country’s electricity. The Waitaki chain is one of the most efficient in the world, and this plan would reduce the amount of electricity it is able to produce – at the very time when the country is facing a tight power supply.

“The minimum flow regimes proposed for the lower Waitaki do not appear to be based on scientific work or best environmental practice.

“It seems to be aimed at maintaining a uniform flow down the river, which in its natural state is enormously variable – so it is hard to see the logic.”

The plan sets a minimum environmental flow down the lower Waitaki River between the Waitaki dam and the sea of 200 cumecs between May and October and 230 cumecs from November to April.

Meridian's existing resource consent allows a minimum flow of 120 cumecs, although this is rarely reached. In its natural state the river flows have dropped as low as 80 cumecs in dry years.

A new environmental flow of three cumecs is set for the Tekapo River, in addition to the environmental flows already allocated to the Ohau River.

Dr Turner says Meridian has yet to fully assess the impact of the draft proposals “but at first glance they don’t look good for a secure electricity supply”.

“It reinforces the wisdom of our cancelling Project Aqua. We were told when this allocation was first mooted that it wouldn’t delay the consent process; yet here we are a year since that decision with only the draft of a plan,” Dr Turner says.

[ends]

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