Don’t turn the Mackenzie Basin green, Forest & Bird warns

Forest & Bird fears that irrigation proposed by farmers for the Mackenzie Basin will turn this iconic russet brown tussock landscape into bright grass green.

Irrigation on the Mackenzie Basin, Photo: Geoff Rogers

Irrigation on the Mackenzie Basin, Photo: Geoff Rogers

Thirty-four companies and individuals have lodged applications to take more than 164 million cubic metres of water from high country rivers and lakes to irrigate more than 27,000 hectares of public and private land in the Mackenzie Basin.

This proposed irrigation to allow intensive farming of the area could turn its spectacular dry, sunburnt vistas into a replica of the highly developed Canterbury Plains.

The proposal puts at risk:

  • ·56 species of threatened plants that rely on the naturally dry habitats of the Mackenzie Basin.
  • ·Lakes Tekapo, Pukaki, Ohau and Benmore, which could be affected by algal blooms caused by farm nutrient runoff.
  • ·The grand entrance to the multi-billion dollar high country tourism industry, including scenery which is a major drawcard for international visitors.
  • ·Destruction of extensive wetlands.
  • ·The natural habitats and flows of numerous high country rivers and streams.

“This is a wholesale water and land grab in one of the most environmentally sensitive regions in New Zealand. The Government needs to step in and prevent an environmental disaster,” Forest & Bird South Island Conservation Manager Chris Todd says.

He says the Mackenzie Basin should be protected in a dryland conservation park as recommended by the Department of Conservation and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

“High Country tourism generates more than $4 billion each year - turning this landscape green and covering it with livestock and huge irrigators would put that tourism income at risk.”

Establishing a “Great Cycleway” from Geraldine to Mt Cook through the spectacular, wide brown landscapes of the Mackenzie Basin would be a much more appropriate and sustainable use of the landscape, Chris Todd says.

“Industrial-scale farming in our most fragile and visually stunning high country landscapes is not sustainable. This environmental destruction is planned for public land without the public’s consent.”

Government department Land Information New Zealand is supposed to act as guardian of natural values identified on Crown grazing leases in the high country. Allowing irrigation on these leases would contradict that responsibility, Chris Todd says.