Applications to use water from the Hurunui River will be put on hold until wider water management questions in Canterbury can be fully assessed.
The decision has been endorsed by Environment Minister Nick Smith, who made the announcement in Christchurch on Wednesday.
It means commissioners appointed to run the regional council will have more time to assess how the use of the Hurunui's water fits into Canterbury's wider water allocation problem.
Dr Smith says it will be the first time a moratorium has been imposed. It is a significant move, but no surprise, he says.
The Hurunui Water Group applied for consents a year ago to irrigate 42,000 hectares of farmland and build a storage dam on the south branch of the river. It also proposes to take water from Lake Sumner.
Project manager Amanda Loeffen says the moratorium will help the planning process and allow it to work with the zone committee as part of the Canterbury water management strategy.
She says the group should have basic clarity afterwards and the project will hopefully be endorsed then.
Dr Smith says it would be a procedural nightmare to make decisions on these applications without a proper plan for the river.
Existing consents to take water from the Hurunui will not be affected. The moratorium will be in place until October 2011.