Scores of irrigators have told the Otago Regional Council the direction of its deemed permit overhaul will "destroy rural New Zealand".
They are at odds with environmentalists who are pleading that the status quo should not continue.
Twenty-one groups spoke at the council's public forum this week about changes to its deemed permits process, which it has been instructed to undertake by Environment Minister David Parker.
Deemed permit irrigators have been working towards next year's deadline to replace mining water privileges with consents.
However, the council has indicated after a ministry-commissioned report it will issue these users with short five-year consents and then issue longer consents under its new water plan, once it has been created.
This was necessary as Mr Parker refused to further extend deemed permit deadlines.
The short-term temporary consents were the main point of contention among farmers and other water users yesterday, who said banks would not lend for necessary infrastructure improvements if there was no assurance their businesses would be viable long-term.
Otago Water Users Group chairman Ken Gillespie said he was aware of several land sales, one of which was in the millions of dollars, which had stalled because of the indication of short-term consents.
Cardrona Irrigators Group member Issi Anderson said she also spent money upgrading to spray irrigation at "huge financial cost" while working towards the 2021 consent timeframe.
"It's pretty unfair. How can we plan 10, 20 years in advance?"
Maniototo Irrigation Company chairman Peter Barrett said the terms were not "fair and reasonable".
"It's not OK to move the goal posts after having everyone else planning for this for the last nine years," Mr Barrett said.
Former regional councillor Gerry Eckhoff said the council's plans would "destroy rural New Zealand".
Forest & Bird Otago and Southland regional manager Sue Maturin said deemed permits resulted in "adverse environmental effects since the late 1850s and '60s".
It must not continue the status quo and roll over the permits, she said.
Department of Conservation principal adviser Neil Deans said it supported the short-term consents.
"There is concern that the very high biodiversity values in Otago are being adversely affected by the allocation regime."
Wise Response Society secretary Dugald MacTavish mirrored these comments, saying responsibility continued to be "kicked down the road".
The council hopes to notify the plan change this month.