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Source: Environment Canterbury Regional Council

Last year the Hakatere / Ashburton River catchment made headlines for historic floods that damaged farms and infrastructure and even threatened Ashburton, but the lack of water in the Hakatere / Ashburton River is a concern for river users.

That’s why, from July 1 next year, many people who have consent to take and use water from the waterways within the Hakatere / Ashburton River catchment will be subject to new minimum flow conditions.

These conditions will change the availability of water and will mean that consent holders will face tighter restrictions on their ability to take water.

Protecting the river’s natural character

The new minimum flows were developed with the community and included in the Canterbury Land and Water Regional Plan to improve and protect the natural character and mauri of the Hakatere / Ashburton River, promote ecosystem health and biodiversity, improve water quality, and ensure that the river mouth remains open for longer.

At the start of April 2022, 61 consent reviews had been decided. Of them, 55 have the new minimum flow conditions added.

New rules for consent holders

From 1 July 2023, those consent holders must cease taking water when the flow in the Hakatere / Ashburton River mainstem at the State Highway 1 Bridge recorder site is less than six cumecs (6000 litres per second), and many also have minimum flow restrictions on tributary waterways.

There are 25 consent reviews – held by 11 consent holders – still to be decided. 

Regional Planning Manager Andrew Parrish said that it’s been a difficult process for those whose consents are being reviewed, because their water supply, often for irrigation of high value crops, will be less reliable.

For those using water for irrigation, the new minimum flows will impact their farming operation and many consent holders are looking at alternatives like scheme water or unconnected groundwater.

Leaving more water in the system

Parrish said that consent review was a necessary tool to implement the minimum flows set by the regional plan and will mean that there is more water left in the catchment for the health of the river and the benefit of all water users.

“If we were to just wait for current consents to expire, it would take 20 years to apply the minimum flow to all consents that take water from the Hakatere / Ashburton system,” Parrish said. “Consent review allows us to reach that minimum flow by mid next year, and to do it in a way that creates an even playing field for water users.”

He said that consent holders impacted by the new minimum flows have been fully engaged in the review process and the majority had understood that the changes imposed on them would contribute to a wider environmental benefit for all water users.

Parrish added that the new minimum flows will help to ensure that an open river mouth will be maintained.

“We expect these changes will improve conditions for fish migration and water quality, especially at the hāpua and river mouth,” he said.

“We know that climate change will bring less reliable rainfall patterns, and we need to ensure a higher minimum river flow to ensure the river, as well as the ecosystem it supports, is resilient to the changes we can’t control.”