The Environment Court hearing on Waikato Regional Council's proposed Variation 6 to the Waikato Regional Plan has closed, with the Court indicating that a decision will be released in November this year.

Variation 6 seeks to strike a balance between managing the adverse effects of ground and surface water use while maintaining reasonable access to, and maximising the sustainable use of, those resources. Variation 6 is to provide guidance on appropriate allocation in catchments where there is increased demand, and which has led to direct competition between those wanting water for domestic and municipal water supply, electricity generation, agricultural development and other uses.

In the face of legal challenges from a number of parties, the Council (earlier on) decided to abandon policies which prioritised activities, and also the common expiry date management approach.

Variation 6 proposes to protect the existing generation of electricity from the Waikato Hydro Scheme and the taking of cooling water for the Huntly Power Station. There was concern from some parties that Variation 6 does not afford sufficient priority to existing agricultural and industrial users.

It was argued that accommodating pastoral irrigation would have economic benefits that vastly outweigh any small loss to electricity production, which could be made up by generators elsewhere.

The Environment Court's decision is likely to have wider implications for other regions also struggling with competing users for water resources.