The Otago Regional Council has been urged to delay setting minimum flows for the Clutha River, at least until the process for other waterways in the region has been completed.
The council is holding the first round of consultations with Central Otago communities about minimum flows and water allocation limits for the Clutha, Kawarau and Hawea Rivers as part of changes to Otago's water plan as the council wants to ensure there will always been enough water to meet the environmental, cultural, economic and recreational needs of the communities.
However, farmer and water advocate Gary Kelliher, of Alexandra, opposes setting minimum flows for the Clutha River at this early stage.
''I strongly advocate that the Clutha should not be included until the other heavily allocated rivers (in the region) have completed the process.''
He said the Clutha was unlike the other rivers being discussed, because of its size and reliability.
''In Central Otago, some consider over-allocation exists in rivers and catchments where they have minimal storage and have high fluctuations of flow — high in winter and low in summer.
''The Clutha is the polar opposite,'' he said.
''It has a relatively constant flow and is a substantial river.''
Setting minimum flows on the Clutha too early meant locking up the resource without any consideration for future opportunities.
Mr Kelliher said he supported using the water in an environmentally and economically sound way, but he could see the move restricting future development such as further orchards, vineyards, irrigated farms or urban expansion.
''We have the valley floor from Wanaka to Balclutha and we have got this massive, reliable resource running smack through the middle of it.''
By limiting the minimum flow and therefore the potential future development of the land, they ran the risk of leaving the land dry, with rabbits, weeds and a fire risk. It was also likely future developers might find the area too restrictive and might choose to look elsewhere.
He disagreed the growing demand for water in the region was concerning. He said minimum flows in other rivers would provide certainty with consents and he urged people to make their views known to the council and give it feedback through the submission process.
ORC director policy planning and resource management Tanya Winter said legislation required regional councils to establish flows and limits on all rivers and levels on lakes.
''The ORC is developing a plan change to manage the amount of water in the Clutha River, including the main tributaries Kawarau and Hawea Rivers and Lakes Wakatipu, Wanaka, Hawea, Dunstan and Roxburgh,'' she said.
''The Clutha is the largest river in the South Island and proactively managing the amount of water in the system will help maintain it for future generations.''
Following this round of consultation, the regional council will prepare reports, identify management options for minimum flow and allocation limits and assess the impacts of the options on social, economic and cultural values.
The options and reports will be put forward for public consultation in a second round of sessions, beginning mid2018.