Water war looms

DERWENT Valley farmers who rely on Meadowbank for irrigation face three months of severe water restrictions.

Hydro plans to lower the level of Lake Meadowbank by two metres over 10 weeks in February next year for maintenance on the dam’s crest gates.

This will be followed by a two-week period where the dam level is dropped a further four metres for tests.

The process will be repeated in early 2023 on a second gate.

As a result, irrigators in the region will be unable to access water through their current means.

Hydro has already confirmed it would meet the $300,000 cost of modifying infrastructure that supplies water to stock and domestic users, a legislated requirement, but at a meeting in Hamilton last week between irrigators and the energy utility, negotiations were yet to reach an amicable conclusion.

Hydro has offered $10,000 to compensate each irrigator for the cost of modifying irrigation systems, however it is expected that amount will only be sufficient for a third of affected irrigators, the remainder expect costs to be upwards of $40,000.

Prior to last week’s meeting, irrigators tabled an offer where they would pay 25 per cent of the costs of new infrastructure, estimated to total about $300,000, with Hydro paying the remaining 75 per cent of costs, about $900,000.

Hydro’s offer was to compensate either $10,000, or contribute 20 per cent of the total expense to the irrigator’s modifications, whichever was more viable to the irrigator.

TFGA CEO John McKew said negotiations needed to move forward quickly to meet their deadlines.

“For the impact this has on this community, this issue is fundamentally important, there is a moral and ethical obligation on Hydro to find a solution to this issue and get on with it,” Mr McKew said.

“The 20 per cent offer from Hydro today just is not good enough, it was nowhere near the mark, irrigators offered to cover 25 per cent cost and Hydro hasn’t even matched that.”

Hamilton dairy farmer Dave Jones said negotiations were cordial, but echoed the need for speed, with deadlines approaching fast.

“I think today went well, as with all meetings we’ve had with Hydro and they have come back with another offer, but they need to find another 55 per cent, whether that’s from the Government or Hydro,’’ Mr Jones said.
“They’re delusional to think this work can be done by February, if they hadn’t mucked around for eight months, we might have had a change, but now, we’ve got zero.
“Hopefully they come back with a bit more cash and then maybe we can go forward.”

Hydro Head of Civil Assets Andrew Hickman said discussions with the community were not yet complete.

“This maintenance must be completed during drier and warmer months to ensure the safety of the communities downstream,” he said.
“We recognise this will have an impact on the community and we always take steps to minimise these impacts,” Mr Hickman said.
“We intend to continue to work constructively with stakeholders and find a way forward that delivers certainty for all.”

Primary Industries and Water and Energy Minister Guy Barnett was called on by irrigators to “put his big-boy pants on” and help resolve an issue that fell squarely in his departments.

“They can find a million so people can watch footy, they helped out the East Coast when they needed it yet here, they claim that they can’t find the money and just expect farmers to stump up and go away,” Mr Jones said.

Mr Barnett’s office was contacted for comment.