Measures to restrict, suspend or revoke water take consents in a catchment which feeds the ailing Selwyn/Waikirikiri River will be investigated.
The river has had record low flows this summer and has dried up along large stretches, including at once popular swimming spots such as Coes Ford.
Environment Canterbury will look into two possible options to help address the situation and report back to the Selwyn Waihora Zone Committee.
One option is that ECan could issue a temporary water shortage direction allowing it to restrict or suspend taking water from the catchment feeding the river. Under the RMA, a water shortage direction can be applied when there is “a serious temporary shortage of water” which could not have been predicted. It would expire after 14 days but could be renewed.
ECan chief operating officer Don Rule said this could potentially affect up to 63 consents in an area south of Rolleston, of which about 46 were thought to have a strong connection to the river. It was not known how many of these consents were already on restrictions.
The other option which will be looked at is a potential ratepayer-funded review of “at the very least” several hundred water take consents in the vicinity of the river but Mr Rule said this would be a longer process.
Such a review would enable ECan to look at whether any consents should be altered or revoked.
“The focus would be on surface and shallow ground water takes initially,” Mr Rule said.
“Based on my experience, consent reviews would certainly not affect this irrigation season, at best they would apply to next irrigation season and history would say even that might be problematic.”
Both options would be open to challenge in the Environment Court.
Zone committee chairman Allen Lim supported ECan investigating the measures but said it needed to be remembered that climate was the main factor affecting the current state of the river.
“If you have to attribute the amount of effect on the Selwyn River level, all the science that we know of says that 15 – 20 per cent is attributed to irrigation, the rest of it is just climate,” Mr Lim said.
District councillor and zone committee member Murray Lemon said restricting or suspending water takes via a water shortage direction would seem like a “huge experiment to take with someone’s livelihood” if it was not certain whether it would have an effect on the river or not.