Public notice

Media release: ORC considering future Manuherekia River flow levels this week

Monday 18 September 2023

The Otago Regional Council will this week consider staff recommendations around setting the future flow rate of the Manuherekia River, in Central Otago.

The recommendations, outlining a slowly staggered increase in flows over the next 17 years, will be put to Councillors at a full meeting on Wednesday, where they will consider noting the direction to be consulted on with the public in October.

Staff are recommending that an initial minimum flow of 900 litres per second at notification be set and then that be increased over seven years to 1200 litres p/s by 2030, and ultimately to 2500 litres p/s a decade later, by 2040.

ORC Chief Executive Richard Saunders says the proposed 17-year timeframe is driven by a number of factors including the potential scale of change required in the catchment, the expiry dates of existing resource consents and the need to appropriately manage higher flows within the river.

“It’s important to note that the Manuherekia river itself needs time to adjust to new flows. The science tells us that a significant jump in flows creates its own ecological risks.”

“Based on the significant work done to date staff are recommending that the Manuherekia’s minimum flow level should reflect where a river’s range naturally sits,” he says.

“We see the 17-year timeframe as being change at an inter-generational pace, so the necessary steps can be taken to effect that change successfully,” he says.  

“Regardless of the final limits set in the plan we need to support all the landowners and the broader community to help achieve the target. Ultimately, building toward maintaining a healthier river is in everyone’s interests,” Mr Saunders says.


Manuherekia River. Photo: ORC files.

Within the wider Manuherekia River catchment there are at present 182 surface [streams and river] water take permits; the vast majority being agricultural related. Additionally, there are a further 17 groundwater consent takes from the catchment: in a mix of consents for mainly agriculture and two councils’ uses.

In theory the current consents on paper allow for a total take of 32,000 litres p/s, but the reality is the take ranges from around 9000-16,000 litres p/s at any given point in time.

While economic modelling reflects the potential impacts for farming operations, Mr Saunders emphasised that would only be if changes were made “overnight”, which is one of the key considerations for the longer lead-in time being recommended.

He said Council is guided by the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management - 2020, in particular Te Mana o te Wai, where its first principle is protecting the health and well-being of freshwater and ecosystems, secondly, protections ahead of water use and thirdly, economic considerations.

The Manuherekia is described as a historically dry catchment with a complex network of irrigation races and channels, with multiple water takes and retakes from numerous tributary streams and the main river, the latter being an important contributor to the wider Clutha Mata-Au catchment.

The final round of community consultation is kicking off in North Otago on Monday,18 of September with 12 community meetings scheduled around Otago as well as the option for people to give online feedback, from now until 6 November.

Mr Saunders says that subject to a decision by Council the Manuherekia River flows will be included as part of the consultation, noting they will be discussed at community meetings on 27 October, at the Ophir Peace Memorial Hall, at 11am-2pm and also 3pm-6pm. People can also view information and give feedback online.

Mr Saunders says neither he nor ORC staff can make any further comment until after Wednesday’s full Council meeting.


Forthcoming Land and Water Regional Plan community meetings

In-person drop-in discussions:

  • Ōamaru18 September. 11am-2pm and 3pm-6pm. Weston Hall, 20 Main St
  • Dunedin19 September. 11am-2pm and 3pm-6pm. Dunedin Art Gallery, The Octagon
  • Ōwaka4 October. 11am-2pm and 3pm-6pm. Owaka Memorial Community Centre, 3 Ovenden St
  • Balclutha5 October. 11am-2pm and 3pm-6pm. Cross Recreation Centre, 18 Glasgow St
  • Ranfurly 9 October. 11am-2pm. Maniototo Golf Club, Tyrone St
  • Mosgiel9 October. 4pm-7pm. Coronation Hall, 99 Gordon Rd
  • Wānaka16 October. 11am-2pm and 3pm-6pm. Lake Wānaka Centre, 89 Ardmore St
  • Cromwell – 17 October. 11am-2pm and 3pm-6pm. Cromwell & Districts Presbyterian Church, 10 Elspeth St
  • Millers Flat18 October. 11am-2pm and 3pm-6pm Millers Flat Hall, 1665 Teviot Rd
  • Ōmakau - 27 October. 11am-2pm and 3pm-6pm. Ophir Peace Memorial Hall


Online discussions

Links will be shared shortly.

  • Region-wide - 6 October. 11am -1 pm.
  • Queenstown - 10 October. 7pm-8.30pm.