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Irrigation will ruin Canterbury's water quality

1 August 2005

'Think Big' irrigation will ruin Canterbury's water quality

'Think Big' irrigation and water storage in Mid and South Canterbury would further compromise water quality and deplete rivers, says Green Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, who recently visited the sites of several of the proposals.

"The size and scale of these schemes is staggering. Quite apart from the effect on the specific areas that would be flooded, they will allow further intensification of land use for dairying across the plains, with all the negative environmental impact that will bring.

"Rather than the monster reservoirs being proposed, the Greens would like to see more work done on drought-proofing properties, introducing low water demand crops and grasses, water efficiency and conservation and smaller-scale on-farm water storage.

"The effect of the intensification allowed by these schemes include even more nitrates and faecal bacteria run-off into rivers and aquifers; depletion of aquifers currently fed by rivers which would be dammed; the loss of river water for recreation, fishing and wildlife; removal of all trees and hedges to prevent obstruction of centre-pivot irrigators; and high electricity demand for irrigation, increasing the need for more investment in transmission and generation.

"Is it wise to vastly increase these effects?"

As part of the Greens' clean rivers and water campaign, Ms Fitzsimons recently twice toured the area with Green Rakaia candidate Mojo Mathers.

"I visited a number of the proposed sites for irrigation and water storage and talked with farmers and others in the community to gain an overview of what is happening," Ms Fitzsimons says.

"These sites included the Waianiwaniwa valley, where Central Plains Water is proposing a mega-dam immediately above Coalgate village to store water from the Waimakariri and Rakaia. I also visited the Orari gorge and the south branch of the Ashburton River, both of which are threatened with damming.

"Some of the areas that would be flooded are absolutely stunning. After my visit, I certainly appreciate why local people are so passionate about protecting their heritage. For instance, the upper Ashburton River is a unique example of an unmodified small braided glacial river.

"The Central Plains Water scheme can also be questioned on the basis of best conventional agricultural practice. It would flood 1,350ha of land that currently has adequate rainfall and is used by some farmers on drought-prone land as a place to send stock in a drought.

"The National Party's proposal to reduce consultation under the RMA is extremely concerning as it will clear the way for these sort of 'Think Big' proposals. These rivers are our common heritage and we should all have the right to have a say on their fate," Ms Fitzsimons says.


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