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Lake Hawea water issues ignored by ORC


Lake Hawea water issues ignored by ORC

“A meeting was held at the Lake Hawea Community Centre on Friday 13 October 2017 with representatives attending from the Upper Clutha Farmers Group (UCFG), Otago Regional Council (ORC), Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) and Contact Energy to discuss the impact of Contact Energy continually operating Lake Hawea lake levels at close to its allowable minimum operating level of 338 metres. The Lake Hawea lake levels have been continually dropping and the adverse effects on the Hawea Community (both the residents and the farmers) are now clear as many local bores have run dry. Before this meeting the Upper Clutha farming community had not been irrigating at all for five months.

The UCFG are bitterly disappointed that at the meeting they were purposely mislead by the Chairman of the ORC, Stephen Woodhead. The ORC has a statutory responsibility to not only monitor the activities authorised by resource consents, but to manage the resource in question, namely water for the community and all users and they have clearly not done this.

A spokesman for the UCFG said “there appears to be a flagrant disregard on the part of the ORC as to its responsibilities to its constituents and the resources it is responsible for managing and regulating and this now appears to be rampant right through the organisation from the Chairman down”.

At the meeting Stephen Woodhead assured the UCFG and all other parties that the ORC had, in May of this year, conducted a review of the Contact Energy consent to dam the waters of Lake Hawea as is required by the conditions of that consent. Following the meeting the UCFG made an information request to the ORC relating to the alleged review of the consent and all materials pertaining to the same. It now transpires the ORC review did not take place and the Chairman had clearly been wrong and mislead the meeting on 13 October 2017.

All parties at the meeting presented information on the water level issue, however what became apparent was that ORC had not to date taken the issue seriously. It appears the staff believed that there were no issues with the Contact Energy resource consent and the minimum operating levels of Lake Hawea given they did not take the opportunity to undertake a review as provided for in the consent.

Information was presented by Contact Energy at the meeting about the continual reducing water flows into Lake Hawea over the past 17 years with particular significant reduction over the last four years. This information appeared to be completely inconsistent with the ORC’s decision not to review the consent which would have reduced the effects Contact’s operation has had on the environment and other water users.

The UCFG were particularly concerned with comments that Stephen Woodhead made which appeared contradictory to those held by many people at the meeting that ORC on the one hand was saying that it did not have enough information about the water dynamics and was not able to make decisions relating to it yet on the other hand stating that it had in fact reviewed the consent in May 2017 (which had not occurred) and that there was “no issues”.

The UCFG concern is not only as to the clear lack of governance and management by ORC but also around the adequacy of the information that the, ORC as the regulator, is basing its decisions on relating to the consented operating levels and the impact that is having on the bores running dry in the Hawea Flat residential community. There was information presented at the meeting that bores that had never run dry in 60 years were bone dry six weeks ago and clearly there was a correlation between lower operating levels of Lake Hawea for longer periods of time having a direct impact on these bores, given that no irrigating had be done in the previous five months.

Subsequent to the meeting and having ascertained that Mr Woodhead’s advice was incorrect in that no review of the Contact Energy consent had in fact occurred, the UCFG was then advised by ORC that an audit of the Contact Energy conditions of consent would occur.

It now transpires that it is intended that such audit be undertaken by ORC staff. UCFG believe that, given ORC’s oversight in not undertaking a review of the Contact Energy consent at the time allowed for such in the consent, that it would be far more appropriate and transparent that any such review was undertaken by an independent qualified person.
Notwithstanding such suggestion the UCFG are aware of growing concern throughout the Otago community as to the overall governance, management and competence of the ORC especially given the importance of water resources to all parts of the community.

The UCFG made it clear at the meeting on 13 October 2017 that there were three key outcomes they wished to see achieved:

1. Short term the Lake Hawea operating level raised to 340m minimum level all year round with an average level no less than 342m until the inflows show an increasing trend (3 years minimum).
2. The stakeholders (including the farmers) want to be involved in the Contact consent review process as they and the community are directly affected by Contact consent conditions.
3. Wider community perspective, seek more science and a better understanding from ORC to address the issues.

These desired outcomes have not changed given this new information post meeting.

The UCFG is currently considering what further steps it can take to have the ORC adhere to its statutory responsibilities. It has not dismissed the possibility of legal action if required.
Since the meeting another Hawea Flat residential bore has run dry at Windmill Corner. The UCFG strongly urge the residents of Hawea Flat to get their bore water levels tested urgently.”

END.

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