Applications by Plateau Farms Limited and Wairakei Pastoral Limited to take water from the upper Waikato catchment have been declined, primarily due to the potential adverse impact on electricity generation.
Plateau Farms applied for resource consents from Environment Waikato to take up to 27,000 cubic metres (cumecs) of water per day from the Waikato River and up to 19,008 cumecs of water per day from the Pueto Stream, located near Taupo. The water was to be used for pasture irrigation purposes on its dairy farming operation.
This was followed by a similar, but separate, application by Wairakei Pastoral to take up to 83,000 cumecs of water per day from the upper Waikato River. The water was intended for the irrigation of pasture converted from forestry land.
Environment Waikato appointed two separate hearing committees to consider a range of submissions on each issue. The Plateau Farms case was heard in Cambridge and Hamilton in March. The Wairakei Pastoral hearing took place in Hamilton in April.
In reaching their decisions, the hearing committees had to consider jurisdictional issues, planning matters, potential effects of water quality and water levels, the impact on power generators, iwi concerns, and the context of relevant legislation.
Mighty River Power, which operates nine power stations on the Waikato River, opposed both proposals. Its lawyers argued “every drop of water that is taken from the Waikato River is a drop that is not available for generation of energy”.
A second electricity generator, Genesis Power Limited, also argued that power generation at its Huntly Power Station site was already constrained when low river flows and higher ambient river temperatures occurred, particularly during the summer months – and that both the proposals would further constrain production.
Evidence at the Plateau Farms hearing led the committee to consider that Plateau’s proposal could result in lost potential for electricity generation equivalent of the electricity consumed annually by about 2380 people.
At the Wairakei Pastoral hearing, it was considered that the proposal could have a combined effect on both generators equivalent of the electricity consumed by more than 4320 people.
In a separate submission to the Wairakei Pastoral Hearing Committee, Watercare Services Limited (which supplies drinking water to Auckland) raised concerns about the impact of the Wairakei proposal on drinking water quality. It pointed to a potential increase in nutrient discharges as a result of the land use conversion to dairying.
In making their decisions, the committees considered a wide range of opinions and evidence from a range of parties including the electricity companies, Watercare Services, Fish and Game, and several iwi groups.
In reaching their decisions, both committees determined that while the proposals would have little impact on water quality and levels, they had serious concerns about potential impacts on the two electricity generators. Both committees concluded these effects would be “more than minor” and would “inevitably spill out to electricity consumers”.
The committees found that the proposed use of water for irrigation would adversely affect the ability of both Mighty River Power and Genesis Power to meet the community’s social and economic well being by meeting the need for electricity generation, and at reasonable prices.
The committees were also required to consider issues around the use and development of renewable energy. They both determined Plateau Farms and Wairakei’s proposals were inconsistent with the government’s Sustainable Development Programme of Action, Energy Policy Framework and National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy.
Regarding the drinking water issue raised by Watercare Services Limited, the Wairakei Pastoral hearing committee determined the decline in water quality as a result of reduced flow from the Wairakei Pastoral application would be minor.
However the committees both noted that they were confined to considering the applications for water takes and the effects that might flow from that. Issues of land use and the effects of nutrient discharges from the use of water for farming operations were beyond their jurisdiction in the context of the consents sought.
In reaching their decisions to decline the applications, the committees noted Plateau Farms and Wairakei Pastoral’s use of a natural resource to provide for economic well-being and meet future food requirements was consistent with section five of the RMA. However in exercising their broad overall discretion, the committees found that while the Plateau Farms and Wairakei Pastoral proposals had merit, there were serious concerns about:
the adverse affects on both Mighty River Power and Genesis Power
Resource Management Act part two considerations, particularly those referring to meeting the reasonably foreseeable needs of future generations, such as electricity generation, future drinking water supplies and renewable energy
the proposal being contrary to recent New Zealand Government initiatives addressing energy issues.
In addition, the committees also expressed concern about the present lack of specific policy guidance on how to balance competing requests for water.
(Note: Environment Waikato is currently working with key stakeholders on the formulation of new water allocation rules and policies. A discussion document is currently being circulated to stakeholders. Once completed, it is anticipated that this document would form the basis of proposed new rules, which would evolve into the Water Allocation Variation referred to by the hearing committees. However, any proposed Water Allocation Variation lies in the future. As such, it could hold no weight in the committees’ decisions.)