Hurunui Water Project could sell consents after failed attempt to secure interest

Written by Emma Dangerfield

The Hurunui Water Project (HWP) may sell its resource consents after failing to secure enough interest from farmers.

The controversial North Canterbury irrigation project has had several setbacks, including a poor response from farmers who bought just one third of the 21,000 water rights offered – only 5200 water rights at $3000 each were taken up.

The scheme had aimed to irrigate about 50,000 hectares of land using water from the Hurunui River via an existing intake shared with the Amuri Irrigation Company (AIC).

HWP chief executive Chris Pile said the absence of central and local government funding made farmers reluctant to invest.

The Hurunui District Council had been considering investing in the scheme, but came up against strong community opposition. Many were unhappy with rates being invested in a private scheme.

The council decided to hold off on any decision until the end of this month, when the outcome of the scheme's nutrient discharge application within the Waipara River red zone catchment was decided.

Opponents of the council investment, including concerned Hurunui resident group He Tangata, say the latest news is a relief.

Group spokesman Ben Kepes said He Tangata had long been of the view that councils should not be involved in private commercial initiatives.

"This news justifies that position. What it will mean down the line for farmers and the community is unclear, however what is clear is that this back-room deal would have likely meant that the Hurunui District Council would have lost any money if it had previously decided to invest."

HWP may now sell its resource consents to AIC, which currently irrigates 28,000ha using water from the Hurunui and Waiau rivers. Chairman David Croft said the company could deliver a smaller 8000ha to 10,000ha scheme that would be feasible.

"We believe that there is the potential for a staged smaller irrigation scheme south of the Hurunui, which would utilise some of the consents currently held by HWP along with unused water within the AIC schemes, when available.

"We anticipate that one company managing most of the water use and environmental impacts of irrigation in the Hurunui River catchment will provide benefits for the community and efficiencies for all irrigators."

HWP chairman Peter Harris said the board, staff and shareholders were disappointed but it was considering AIC's offer and would hold a meeting with shareholders later this month.

"[The offer] ensures that all of the significant effort and investment by HWP returns value that future generations living in this community will benefit from."