6 Dec 2008

River power scheme approval seen as pointer

3:44 pm on 6 December 2008

Promoters of a South Canterbury irrigation project to take water from the Waitaki River are encouraged by preliminary approval for a power scheme on the lower Waitaki River.

A hearing panel appointed by Canterbury Regional Council has granted Meridian Energy four resource consents to use water from the river for power generation.

The North Bank Tunnel Concept proposes to take water from Lake Waitaki and send it through a tunnel and power station before discharging the water back into the river at Stonewall.

The panel says its interim decision depends on sorting out some outstanding consent conditions.

But people behind the proposed Hunter-Downs irrigation scheme say the panel's preliminary approval of the hydro project has given them encouragement as they wait for the outcome of their application.

The irrigation scheme is not linked to the power project, but both call for lowering the minimum flow of the Waitaki River from 150 to 100 cumecs at its mouth.

The Hunter-Downs scheme would take water from the lower Waikati River, near an outlet that Meridian is proposing for its tunnel, to irrigate up to 40,000 hectares of farmland in South Canterbury.

A hearing panel is expected to deliver its decision on that in March or April next year.

It is also considering applications for irrigation from the upper Waitaki River, in the McKenzie Basin.