The Central Plains water scheme is on the way
By Bridget Gourlay
A multi-million dollar project irrigating the central Canterbury plains from the Waimakariri and Rakaia rivers is well on the way to being put in place, 130 years after it was originally proposed.
The irrigation scheme was first floated in 1883 but it wasn’t until 2000 that a feasibility study was funded by the Selwyn District Council and the Christchurch City Council.
In 2004, 300 farmers throughout central Canterbury collectively invested $4.7 million to help fund the resource consent process.
The Central Plains Water Trust (CPWT) scheme has just been granted resource consent, which means funding can be sought and construction begun.
The CPWT scheme has estimated the economic benefits of irrigating the Waimakariri and the Rakaia rivers will be huge, with the contribution to GDP to be more than $350 million, the same as a Rugby World Cup — every year.
CPWT chairperson Denis O’Rourke says this is a conservative estimate, but he also says the other benefits the scheme will bring to the region can’t be forgotten.
“You can expect to see small towns in mid Canterbury achieving more residents, that will mean more schools required, more banks, more supermarkets. It will certainly reverse the flow of people from rural area to the city a little bit.”
Overall, the scheme will create 2400 jobs (1000 in agriculture and 1400 in processing) — another estimate O’Rourke says is conservative.
He believes there will be many spin-off jobs, especially in Christchurch city, such as more transport jobs and more for the airport and Lyttelton and Timaru ports.
“We have done the hard yards, which is, of course, to get a scheme through resource consent. I think the next step is to obtain funding for it to be constructed.” O’Rourke was reluctant to let too many details slip about who will fund this, or how much needs to be raised, but he is confident it will be easy to do.
A workshop held recently was ‘successful’.
Like any plans involving the words ‘water’, ‘farming’ and ‘Canterbury’, the scheme isn’t without significant controversy. Opposition groups have lodged dozens of objections during the resource consent process.
One such group, the Malvern Hills Protection Society, argues construction works in the beds and on banks of the rivers will be ecologically degrading. Chairperson Barry Mathers says the associated land use intensification will also lead to a major expansion in dairying, which he says will further degrade drinking water quality.
“Nitrate contamination of drinking water wells is increasing across Canterbury. Rising levels of nitrates are a public health issue. Nitrates and pathogens leaching into lowland springs, rivers and streams is degrading ecological values.
The CPW irrigation scheme will exacerbate these problems.”
Mathers says the Malvern Hills Protection Society is considering appealing the decision.
O’Rourke says the Malvern Hills Protection Society and other groups’ fears are not justified.
“People can be assured that water quality will not be compromised at all by this scheme. We intend to work in close collaboration with the new commissioners of the regional council, to achieve both the economic objectives of the scheme, but also environmental ones. We want to ensure the protection of Canterbury’s water, if not to enhance it.”