2007 – Damming water for the future prosperity of Otago

Fraser McRae

The Resource Management Act 1991 provides regional councils with responsibility for the control of taking, use, damming and diversion of water for the purpose of promoting sustainable resource management. The Act enables councils to develop plans, including objectives, policies and rules, to assist it carry out its functions. Otago Regional Council has an operative plan, Regional Plan: Water for Otago, which contains various provisions relevant to controlling damming and storage of water.

In Otago, where irrigation is significant, most surface water is over-allocated. Water for irrigation is largely allocated through deemed resource consents (issued by the Wardens Court under the Mining Acts of 1898 and 1926) which now have an imposed expiry date of 1 October 2021 under the Resource Management Act. Deemed consents have priority access allocations and are largely excluded from the provisions of the regional plan. Water resources are not efficiently utilised under the current regime, with water from dry areas transported long distances to areas with abundant water, and surface water taken when ground water is a more appropriate resource.

Otago Regional Council is undertaking a plan change program to allow smooth transition from deemed consents that ensures water resources are efficiently allocated and water is used efficiently after 2021. The paper describes the results of consultation undertaken with irrigators and discusses the role of irrigation infrastructure raised at those meetings.

Efficient water resource management requires Council to develop a policy regime that promotes water resource and use efficiency as a priority and encourages community based water management for efficient on farm use. Also, irrigators need to develop new storage and distribution infrastructure managed and operated at an inter farm – community level.

Changes to the Building Act, giving regional councils responsibility for dam safety and building controls for dams, create opportunities for greater integration of dam construction and management with water resource management under the Resource Management Act. This paper explores an opportunity for major redesign of water infrastructure development and management for the future prosperity of Otago.

Keywords: Building Act, Resource Management Act, water, storage and distribution infrastructure, resource efficiency

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