Debate over the Otago Regional Council's (ORC) handling of water issues in Central Otago looks set to continue today, as new accusations - including one of a potential $50 million annual loss to the region's economy - arise before an ORC policy committee meeting.
But ORC chairman Cr Stephen Woodhead has indicated some issues may be clarified at today's meeting, where issues to be discussed include a motion by Cr Michael Laws, who has slammed his own council, and a controversial water allocation for the Manuherikia district.
ORC chief executive Sarah Gardner has previously acknowledged resolving water issues such as minimum flows and permit renewals throughout Otago is ''challenging'', but confusion and controversy reached new heights last month when Ms Gardner promoted anew a 3.2cumecs water allocation for the Manuherikia Valley.
It was about one-third of the water currently allowed, and would mean about 9000ha of irrigable land may be lost, Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan said in his report to the Central Otago District Council yesterday.
He spoke out for the second time against the ORC's handling of water issues, saying the possible resulting annual loss of an estimated $50million to the Central Otago community ''can't be allowed to happen and to go unchallenged without a clear explanation of why [the 3.2cumecs]'' is in the [Otago Water Plan]''.
Ms Gardner had previously told the Otago Daily Times the 3.2cumecs arose following a 2004 Environment Court ruling around the minimum flow at Ophir, but Cr Woodhead said yesterday 3.2cumecs was not the allocation limit.
When asked if Ms Gardner's earlier comment had been confusing or contradicted his comment, Cr Woodhead said the 3.2cumecs ''is a combination of total consented values in the catchment'', and information about it needed to be read in conjunction with other parts of the water plan.
He said more information about the allocation limit would be presented at today's meeting.
Cr Laws has repeatedly spoken out against the ORC's handling of water issues and has moved a motion that would throw out the 3.2cumecs limit and calculate a new limit and minimum flow plan change for the Manuherikia, Cardrona and Arrow catchments at the same time.
His motion will be discussed at today's meeting, where a delegation from the Manuherikia sub-group of the Otago Water Resource Users Group (OWRUG) will also make a presentation.
Cr Laws and OWRUG Manuherikia chairman Gary Kelliher both said papers prepared by ORC staff for today's meeting contained various inaccuracies.
Mr Kelliher has encouraged as many water users as possible to attend today's meeting to show ''collective concern''.
Cr Laws said he was concerned Cr Woodhead had been lobbying against his motion, by discussing it with other councillors and staff.
When asked if he was lobbying against the motion, Mr Woodhead said, ''I've been having conversations with councillors as I do all the time, and ... this is politics, and it comes down to getting more votes than the other guy.''