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Panel’s recommended changes to Waimakariri River Plan

Commissioners accept hearing panel’s recommended changes to Waimakariri River Regional Plan

Significant changes to the management of the Waimakariri River have been accepted by Environment Canterbury commissioners at today’s council meeting.

The changes were recommended to the council by independent hearing commissioners Bob Batty and Dr Mike Freeman, following the notification of Plan Change 1 to the Waimakariri River Regional Plan in August last year. Around 100 submissions were received with hearings held from April to September this year.

The independent hearing commissioners were only empowered to make recommendations to Environment Canterbury, not to decide the new rules and policies themselves.

Under the Environment Canterbury Act, these decisions can only be appealed by submitters on points of law to the High Court, within 15 days of receiving notification of decisions by mail. These will be posted to submitters from January 10, 2011.

The review of parts of the Waimakariri River Regional Plan, operative since 2004, was brought about by increasing demand for more water for irrigation. One of the largest applicants to use the river’s water, Central Plains Water Ltd, has been granted consents with conditions (some under appeal) in recent months.

Key changes
In the original council-proposed changes, an environmental buffer or “gap” was built into the allocation regime, amounting to 30 cumecs (cubic metres of water per second) to maintain higher river flows.

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The hearing commissioners assessed this “gap” requirement under a number of models and instead opted for a one-to-one flow sharing regime for the B-block as sought by a large number of submitters, including Central Plains Water. However, the hearing commissioners reduced the size of the B allocation block from 40 cumecs to 27 cumecs. This block caters to all existing consent holders.

The river’s minimum flow remains at 41 cumecs and the A-block allocation, plus community and stock water supplies, remains at 22 cumecs. Hence for the A-block group to be all extracting, the river has to be running at 63 cumecs at the Old Highway Bridge measuring site. The one-to-one sharing regime means that for every two cumecs of water available in the B-block, one can be allocated to a consent holder and the other stays in the river.

The hearing commissioners agreed that the minimum flow recorder for the river should be moved from the Old Highway Bridge to a site above the main water takes at Otarama.

The recommended flow and allocation regime for the B-block is similar to that granted to Central Plains Water in recent months (bearing in mind that some aspects of their consents are under appeal).

Although the “holiday” rule contained in the appealed Central Plains Water consents has not been adopted, the hearing commissioners said that discretion should be retained to enable the council to impose restrictions on abstractions upstream of the Gorge Bridge. This would protect river flows for the annual Coast-to-Coast multi-sport event, held in February.

“The independent hearing commissioners have done a very thorough job of assessing the pressures on the Waimakariri and we thank the many submitters who gave their time and energy to this process,” said Commissioner Peter Skelton. “These recommendations take into account the changing water management environment under the close-to-operative Canterbury Natural Resources Regional Plan and the community-driven Canterbury Water Management Strategy.

“The hearing commissioners have benefited from the information coming through applications like that of Central Plains Water and the many expert witnesses common to both those applications and this plan change.

“They have considered social, cultural, economic and environmental matters pertinent to the Waimakariri catchment and the greater Christchurch and Central Plains area. We believe the framework they have outlined will protect the river’s natural, cultural, recreational and environmental values and be consistent with the principles of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy.”

ENDS

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