A group of farmers in Otago's Maniototo say an irrigation ban in the face of a growing drought crisis is an unfair punishment on the area.
The Otago Regional Council is stopping all water takes in the catchment area of the Taieri River from noon on Wednesday to protect its ecology.
Last week the council said the data showed the drought was already worse than the last big one of 1999.
The council yesterday held three meetings along the Taieri river to warn farmers about the action, and at one, in Kyeburn Hall, about 30 farmers criticised the ban.
The chairperson of Kyeburn Catchment Limited, David McAtamney said 18 farmers had been giving up 100 litres of water per second for weeks to raise the river level, and the irrigation ban punished them for doing the right thing.
Mr McAtamney said the council went on summer holiday too long, and came back to a mess which it now said was unfixable.
Otago Rural Support Trust chairman Gavan Herlihy farms at nearby Patearoa and said the ban was hard to accept because water was so scarce and the district so stressed.
Mr Herlihy said a blanket ban was the wrong way to go and would be extremely tough and damaging for local farmers.
He told Morning Report if farmers turn off the water it will go down into the sub-surface. "It won't increase one litre of the outflow."
Mr Herlihy said a total irrigation ban should be imposed only where it could be shown to help the river, and that was not the case for the Sowburn, nor probably the Kyeburn, areas.
But Otago Regional Council chief executive Peter Bodeker praised the Kyeburn farmers' actions and said they were not being punished.
Mr Bodeker said he had held off imposing a ban as long as he could but "one out all out" was the only fair way.