Nod for water project

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By DAVID HILL

A decade-long battle for a huge water storage dam near Oxford has made it out of the courts.

Waimakariri Irrigation Ltd (WIL) has had consents confirmed for the dam, but a final decision on whether to build it could be some time off.

Chief executive Brent Walton says the Environment Court’s confirmation last week of WIL’s six consents was a big step.

“There’s a very long list of conditions, so we’ve got quite a bit of work to do. We will now put together a construction contract and then go back to our shareholders for final approval.

“We will take it at a very measured pace and put some thought into managing the consent conditions.”

Consents cover discharge, storage fuel, discharging stormwater and a land-use consent, as well as dam construction.

The judge made it clear that the dam project was unprecedented in terms of design and peer review, Mr Walton said.

It has been a long journey for WIL, which bought the land at Wrights Rd, near Oxford, in 2007.

A water storage dam will give farmer-shareholders about 90% reliability, compared to 75% from the present “run-of-the-river” consent, Mr Walton said.

WIL was first granted a building consent in June 2013 for an 8.2 million cubic metre water storage facility on its 120 hectares at Burnt Hill. The dam will augment supplies from the irrigation scheme when run-of-river supply is limited by high or low flows.

The consent was approved in spite of objections from 115 of the 160 submitters to the project.

A local residents group, the Eyre Community Environmental Safety Society (ECESS) then appealed to the Environment Court.

Spokeswoman Catherine Ballinger says her group is proud of what it has achieved, with experts giving their time to ensure ECESS was able to put up the strongest possible challenge.

‘‘ECESS managed to change a lot of things and the conditions have made the dam proposal a lot safer than it otherwise would have been.’’

Improvements include strengthening the wall design with a higher-grade lining, and warning systems have changed. An evacuation plan is still being worked on and this remains a concern for ECESS.

‘‘We were never opposed to water storage. Our concern was always about public safety. We believe it is much cheaper for farmers to put in their own ponds,’’ she says.

A concern for ECESS was how conditions would be enforced, so Ms Ballinger welcomed the requirement for a community liaison group.

While she would have preferred no dam, Ms Ballinger wonders if the conditions will make it unaffordable.