24 Jul 2015

Hurunui irrigation project on hold

4:37 pm on 24 July 2015

A company developing an irrigation scheme in North Canterbury has put plans on hold while it waits for the Environment Court to give a final ruling on consents.

There has been no heavy rain in the area since June of last year.

Farmers have been dealing with the effects of severe drought. Photo: RNZ / Patrick Phelps

The board of the Hurunui Water Project has decided to not continue spending money on the $400 million Waitohi Irrigation Scheme, to conserve funds it might need for potential legal costs.

The proposed water storage is planned to sit along the length of the upper Waitohi River and provide irrigation around the Hawarden area.

It will take water mainly from the Hurunui River to irrigate up to 60,000 hectares of land on several hundred properties.

Farmer shareholders of an irrigation scheme in north Canterbury are frustrated the brakes have been put on the scheme.

Farmer liaison committee board chair Mark Zino said the scheme had been in the pipeline for 13 years, and it kept coming up against bureaucratic hurdles.

He said irrigation could have helped to prevent the drought conditions parts of north Canterbury are suffering at the moment.

"This is the worst drought of our farming generation that we've probably seen, and probably will see, and it's not over yet.

"The catch-22 at the moment is that we are in the middle of winter, we've got no grass on hand, we've got lambing just around the corner and when our ewes start lambing we've got to provide feed and that's the big battle.

"That's where this irrigation scheme could have helped and that's the frustration - that we've invested so much time and money and heartache in this scheme, just to have it held up in a bureaucratic legal process when everybody, whether you're an environmentalist or a shareholder in the company, we're all trying to move the situation forward and it's just trapped in this ridiculous process."

He said it was unknown how long the court process would take.

Board chief executive Alex Adams said engineering development work such as geotechnical drilling had been put on hold as a result.

Mr Adams says the delays were frustrating because they were out of the board's control and it was not clear when the court process would be concluded.

"We're to a point where we need the consents unencumbered so that we're in a good position to raise more funding.

"At the moment it's difficult to raise funding without having the consents absolutely clear.

Mr Adams said it was a bad time to ask for more funding.

"The effects of that drought will be felt for a year of two - they've spent a lot of money on that - and yet the drought has demonstrated that the scheme is very necessary."