Energy Regulations Major Changes to Lake Dunstan Management

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Contact Energy rules out major changes to Lake Dunstan’s management.

Contact Energy’s Clyde Dam.
Photo: Tristanb, CC BY-SA 3.0

It comes in response to the announcement earlier this week by the Otago Regional Council that parts of the electricity giant’s permission to operate the Clyde Dam will be under review.

Every five years, the board has a three-month period to notify Contact Energy of its intention to review the terms of consent.

But it was a rare and potentially unprecedented step to actually respond to the ability.

The municipality informed Contact on Tuesday, with one day left in the three-month window.

The council would review terms regarding the impact of the dam’s operation on the Kawarau arm of Lake Dunstan.

Lake Dunstan was formed at the confluence of the Mata-Au/Clutha River and the Kawarau River by the damming of the Mata-Au at Clyde.

Since it was muted in the early 1990s, it had provided more recreational facilities to the Cromwell community.

But the Kawarau Arm had become a shallow, and sometimes smelly and dangerous mess in recent years, due to silt, which used to wash up the Kawarau River and beyond Mata-Au, which has now been stuck and accumulating for three decades.

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Last month, RNZ reported that the council had issued a ban against Contact over its landscape and visual amenity management plan – basically the roadmap for how the effects of the Clyde Dam on the Kawarau arm would be managed.

The council’s confirmation of a review followed pressure from community groups, who said the electricity giant was failing to fulfill its obligations as a socially responsible company.

Contact said it welcomed the review and the opportunity to clarify the consent.

Hydroelectric power station Boyd Brinsdon said the root of much of the disagreement over the management of the Kawarau weapon was a lack of clarity.

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File image.
Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

“I think part of our struggle – and that’s what I call them – in recent years has been a lack of clarity about what those terms require and should do. So having more clarity for all parties, including Contact, as to what is needed and what we do in the future is a good thing.”

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The Kawarau arm was destined to become a braided river, it was all about how that happened and what the process looked like, Brinsdon said.

“It’s just a decision on what can be added [to the consent conditions]consideration around native plantings, consideration of what other things we can do to improve and mitigate the transition from a lake to an alluvial river environment,” he said.

He ruled out larger interventions, such as mechanical dredging of the Kawarau arm.

“As Contact has said many times in the past, it is practically impractical to move or manage nearly a million cubic meters of sediment that arrive in the Kawarau arm each year,” Brinsdon said.

“Our consents believe that and the hearing panel in the 2000s acknowledged that. Their wording is very clear – the effects over the next 35 years, the terms of the consents through 2042, will mean sediment build-up in the Kawarau arm. obligation for Contact, which is not clear, is to manage only its visual amenity values.

“We don’t think about sediment removal because its scale is completely impractical to deal with by mechanical extraction, simply because even if one million cubic meters of sediment could be removed from the Kawarau arm each year, where would Where would you put it? And what would that look like? And the adverse effects of that would be considerably greater than they are now.”

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That would be a blow to some community members who had called for dredging and removal of the sediment.

Richard Saunders, the Otago Regional Council’s general director of regulations and communications, said there was no timetable for when the review would be completed.

It would take at least a month for the council to even make a decision on whether the public could participate in the process.

Saunders admitted without pressure from community groups, such as the Lake Dunstan Charitable Trust, that the review was unlikely to have even happened.

But the fact that it happened was not an indictment of Contact.

“It should not be seen as a reflection on Contact itself,” he said.

“What we’re really looking for out of this process is absolute clarity for everyone going forward.”