Meridian Energy's consent to take water for the Manapouri Power Scheme was the focal point at a Southland Water and Land Plan information session held in Te Anau this week.
Environment Southland has been holding public meetings about changes made to the Southland Water and Land Plan, the appeals deadline for which closes today.
After delving into some of the proposed plan's farming rules and policies, the public at Monday's Te Anau session soon honed in on Meridian's consent to use water from the Waiau River to run the Manapouri Power Scheme.
The latest version of the proposed plan changes Meridian's water take for the scheme from a discretionary to a controlled activity. The classification change guarantees renewal of Meridian's consent when it expires in 2031.
Some former and current Environment Southland staff have disagreed with the change, saying it could shut out the council from having a meaningful conversation with Meridian about such an important water take.
At low flows around 95% of the Waiau River is diverted into the scheme; and it is the largest consumptive water take in New Zealand, according to the council.
Attendees at the Te Anau session focused on the reasoning behind the commissioners' decision, the health of the lower Waiau River, and the upcoming limit setting and appeals process.
Mavora farmer Robert Kempthorne wanted to know more about the commissioner panel’s reasoning behind the change, saying there was no reason for the regional council to have made the process easier for Meridian.
Director of policy, planning and regulatory services Vin Smith said the hearing panel’s reasoning was available on the Environment Southland website, but it was not the regional council’s job to justify the decisions made by the independent hearing panel.
The council didn’t have the discretion to appeal its own plan, and it was up to submitters to lodge appeals if they were dissatisfied.
At the end of the meeting chairman Nicol Horrell said the council was between a “rock and a hard place” regarding the Waiau, and it could not litigate the decisions of the commissioners.
It appears there are four organisations who may qualify to submit an appeal: the Department of Conservation, Federated Farmers, Southland Fish and Game, and Aratiatia Livestock of Western Southland.
Federated Farmers Southland and Aratiatia Livestock have confirmed they will appeal.
Once the appeals deadline closes there will be an opportunity for other select parties to join the lodged appeals under Section 274 of the Resource Management Act.
Environment Southland representatives said the council would be engaging in community conversations, and that the limit setting process was still to come