A multi-million dollar venture is in the works to further develop Central Otago’s cherry industry and, as a result, further draw resources from the Clutha River.
As cherry investment firm Hortinvest proceeds with its $15.5 million cherry project in the Lindis Valley, it will see the Lindis Peaks Station merino sheep and beef cattle farming business change the use of their land as they diversify into horticulture, which is a welcomed change to many environmentalists. The station, family owned for four generations since 1910, will start planting for the Lindis River cherry project this winter.
Within the plan to expand into horticulture, the 80ha land project will include an irrigation plan to access water from the Clutha River to water the crop. "The time is right to diversify," said Lindis Peaks Station farmer Lucy Annan. "Horticulture is water-efficient and sits well with our farming system." She said she and fellow station farmer Simon Maling invested in a significant irrigation scheme in 2015 to access water from the Clutha River.
Freshwater is a valuable renewable resource that is often used for irrigation in many vineyards, market gardens and on horticulture crops that otherwise cannot be grown or enhanced without the irrigation. Irrigation can be required to ensure that horticulture is profitable in many of the drier parts of the country. Water is pumped or diverted from the waterways, but only if doing so adheres to minimum flow restrictions to protect local habitats.
Despite that knowledge, change and demand can put pressure on existing resources if sustainable practices are not used, according to the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.
Recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development figures for New Zealand showed a large increase in the volume and depth equivalent of irrigation water being used, and analysis of that data has suggested there is room to reduce the depth of water on the country’s irrigated farms.
The Wanaka Sun wanted to know if irrigation efficiency is a clear guide for sustainability when it is compared with the wider interest of the community to reduce our water footprint.
Otago Regional Council (ORC), which has responsibility for water extraction consents, offered additional clarification on consented water extraction from the Clutha River. The council states that it encourages “environmentally-sustainable use of land and water resources, and their expectation is that all permitted and consented activities fulfil that criteria.”
It was not clear to the Wanaka Sun whether Hortinvest applied for resource consent, or had it granted, and ORC would not elaborate on whether this freshwater extraction required consent.
“Under the provisions of the Regional Plan: Water for Otago, people can apply for resource consent to take water from the Clutha River for a variety of uses, including domestic and communal water supplies, pasture and orchard irrigation,” said Joanna Gilroy, ORC manager of consents. “The Water Plan does not restrict activities that rely on water abstraction from the Clutha River unless these activities have an adverse effect on the river or the diverse ecological, cultural, social and economic values supported by the Clutha or its hydro lakes."
She said the amount of water that would be approved for irrigating a cherry orchard would be based upon its size and location. “When we receive an application to take water for irrigation, we perform an assessment of reasonable use which accounts for local soil, climate, and crop types.”
Gilroy also said that if water-users are taking water as a permitted activity under the council’s regional water plan, then it is not necessary for them to apply for a resource consent. “Certain requirements apply to permitted activities, such as preventing backflow of contaminated water and protection of fish from entering water takes. The restrictions on the quantity of water that can be taken as a permitted activity vary within the region and can be found in the Regional Plan. Water taken from the Clutha/Mata-Au as a permitted activity must not exceed 100 litres per second, nor 1,000,000 litres per day.”
Gilroy continued, “There are 28 existing consents to draw a total of 8,743 l/s of water from the Clutha between Red Bridge and Lake Dunstan. Of those 28 consents, 25 of them (half of the volume abstracted) are for, or have a component that is for irrigation. ORC is currently reviewing the Regional Plan: Water. As a requirement of the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management, we have established Freshwater Management Units (FMUs) which set out the appropriate spatial scale for setting freshwater objectives and limits, so that value-setting can be driven locally, rather than through a one-size-fits-all approach.”
She said the public will have the chance to share input into setting water policies, including minimum flows and allocation limits, through ORC's FMU value-setting process; they will also be given the opportunity to identify the kind of values and water-use they want to see provided through council’s regional planning framework. Gilroy maintained that the limits of the permitted take for water will be assessed as part of this process.
Dates of the community consultation on the water plan change process were not announced by the time we went to print, but they reportedly will take place over several years.