Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Group targets Hawke’s Bay water security

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A new steering group chaired by former New Zealand special trade envoy Mike Petersen is looking at how to improve water security in Hawke’s Bay, although not everyone is convinced about the motivation of those behind the project.
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Petersen says the issues of water security and the health of the Tukituki River, its tributaries and its people are becoming more urgent given the effects of recent droughts and the impact of climate change in the area.

He says the Tukituki Water Security Project will examine options for solving those two key issues: water security and restoring the health of the river and its people.

He adds there are no predetermined outcomes and the work is not a rerun of previous water projects in the region. 

Rather, it is a rescoping of the needs of the catchment and a genuine assessment of how that goal can be feasibly met using a range of measures, including the potential for water storage.

“The project will rescope a strategy for water security, which is being led from the bottom up, with the aim of first addressing catchment needs from the effects of climate change and improved environmental outcomes,” Petersen said.

He says the group is made up of a small number of interested Hawke’s Bay citizens, including sector leaders, commercial interests and iwi, that have come together to progress water security for the local and wider region. 

“All of those involved with this project have a strong desire to ensure that future generations of Hawke’s Bay citizens can benefit from this work to make the region one of New Zealand’s best living environments,” he said.

Central Hawke’s Bay farmer Andrew Wilson cannot see how the proposed project – and what he sees as its aim of an increased water supply for farmers wanting more access to irrigation – stacks up.

From the research he has done, it will only be intensive farming operations that will be able to afford to pay for water from any new scheme that might be established.

Wilson is concerned that those intensive farming operations will bring with them greater potential for nitrate leaching.

He adds that currently only a handful of farming businesses – all of them dairying – have access to the vast majority of irrigated water in Central Hawke’s Bay.

Wilson says intensive dairy farming systems in Hawke’s Bay on light gravels apply on average 4500-5000 tonnes of irrigated water per hectare a year.

That compares to average household use in small towns in the region of 300-400t, so 10ha of irrigated dairy land could supply entire towns.

Wilson says that shows a need to socialise the cost of irrigation across urban areas, which he is against.

He is also unsure where water storage would be located as a recent Hawke’s Bay Regional Council study that explored possible locations for suitable sites could not find any.

Clint Deckard, a former member of the Tukituki Leaders Forum who resigned from it last year citing concerns over the forum’s composition and processes, questions whether the make-up of the steering group is representative of the whole community.

He says it looks to be stacked with big irrigator supporters, although they are being slicker with their messaging than other groups in the past, putting more emphasis on potential environmental benefits.

Petersen says the project and the work of the governance group is at an early stage and from the outset there has been a shared desire and commitment between iwi and community to get it right.

The project group has engaged advisory firm Lewis Tucker to complete the rescoping and revalidation of the business case for the Tukituki project.

It will undertake a full review, including looking at the environmental footprint, water demand, the project structure, total project costs, capital structure and suitability of the consents.

Petersen says the steering group has recently begun a process of engaging with the wider Hawke’s Bay community and all stakeholders to build support.

“Support from local tangata whenua has been strong and an early priority is engagement with hapū in person, where possible,” he said.

“Once there has been extensive engagement with the wider community, we hope that a consensus can be formed to take forward water security for the Tukituki catchment as a key regional priority.

“We are confident that this project will also complement the important work that Hawke’s Bay Regional Council is doing to ensure water security for the wider Hawke’s Bay region.

“We look forward to keeping the community updated as we work collaboratively to develop a solution that has water security and restoring the health of the river and its people at its heart.”


Steering group members

Mike Petersen – Chair, Tukituki Water Security Project, Waipukurau

Liz Graham – Chair, Heretaunga Tamatea Settlement Trust

Alex Walker – Mayor, Central Hawke’s Bay

Hugh Ritchie – Livestock and cropping farmer, Otane

Ian Walker – Chair, Centralines

Sarah von Dadelszen – Sheep and beef farmer, Waipukurau

Sam Robinson – Sheep and beef farmer, Flemington

Denis Hames – Central Hawke’s Bay businessman and recently retired Findex partner, CHB

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