Tim Fulton

An irrigation leader says the Environment Court’s ruling on the Lindis River strikes a balance between protecting fish habitat and farming interests.

The court cancelled Otago Regional Council’s original decision on minimum flow of 900 litres per second and a primary allocation limit of 1200l/s. It substituted a minimum flow of 550l/s and a primary allocation of 1640l/s.

Fish and Game is appealing the court’s decision, seeking clarification from the High Court over what it believes to be errors of law relating to the protection of the habitat of trout and salmon.

Otago Fish and Game Council chief executive Ian Hadland, said it would argue the court applied the wrong legal tests when assessing the value of trout and salmonids under the Resource Management Act (RMA) 1991.
Fish and Game Councils were established under the Conservation Act with a statutory role and exist to maintain and enhance the habitats of trout and salmon and the populations of trout and salmon living in those habitats.

‘It is about what resources are to be taken for use and what is left available for in-stream habitat.’

“This appeal is focused primarily on seeking clarity on aspects of the judgment that have potential for national application – not simply for the Lindis River context,” he said.

Irrigation New Zealand chief executive Liz Soal said she was surprised the court went to such lengths to consider the protection of introduced and native fish. It was evident that the decision would have national implications, whichever way the appeal went, she said.

Soal said the court also attempted to determine the status quo for the Lindis – the flow and water allocation levels required to sustain introduced and native fish while allowing the community to keep using it, for farming in particular.

“It is about what resources are to be taken for use and what is left available for in-stream habitat.”

Most Central Otago farmers’ priority was efficiency rather than more water volume, having greater control over when, where and how they irrigated.

They knew that if flow rates and allocation levels were too restrictive, it would be impossible to store water and irrigate little and often, as recommended for reducing leachate loss.

Reliability was the key, Soal said.

Central Otago has been irrigating for about 100 years, first under mining permits and more recently under deemed permits.

The passage of the RMA Act in 1991 set a 30-year deadline for the expiry of the permits. Beyond 2021 irrigators will have to hold new RMA consents to take water from rivers and streams and will have to consider environmental flows for the first time in line with resource management policies including the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management.

Otago Regional Council general manager strategy, policy and science Gwyneth Elsum said the decision in question only referred to the Lindis River minimum flow and primary allocation limit.

“We are still awaiting the court’s decision on the Lindis Catchment Group’s resource consent application to replace deemed permits,” Elsum said.

Due to the appeal, ORC could not comment at this stage on what the effects of this decision will be for farmers in the catchment.