New water limits could bring ‘real tragedy’
The very real effects of improving the water quality of the Tukituki River are about to bite and farmers and the community they support are not ready.
It was discovered nearly a decade ago that the river’s water had been over-allocated and this was leading to its poor health over summer.
The Hawke’s Bay Regional Council brought in a plan change in late 2015 that would see the minimum flow levels increase, meaning irrigators would need to cease taking water when the river got down to a higher level than previously.
The new levels come into effect next year, with a further increase in 2023.
The limits particularly affect Central Hawke’s Bay. Community leaders and the Mayor, Alex Walker, have implored the regional council to look at making a plan change that would defer the new limits.
They said many water users had been relying on water to be provided by the Ruataniwha dam scheme, which did not go ahead, and they needed time to identify and execute long-term solutions to the loss of water for their businesses.
There are currently 76 consents with minimum flow conditions.
The Hawke’s Bay Regional Council regional planning committee on Wednesday considered a paper from staff that recommended further discussions be held with Ministry for the Environment officials, iwi, Fish and Game and Forest and Bird and others then report back to the committee with their responses.
The committee voted 7-4 against the recommendations, effectively meaning the status quo remains, though it was agreed that further discussions would be held with stakeholders.
Committee members strong views on the matter.
Cr Debbie Hewitt said the new limits would affect many people.
‘‘It’s not just about 76 consent holders. It’s a wider community appreciation that we’re had discussing here. I’d like to think that there’s quite a bit of compassion around the table for the situation,’’ she said.
Hewitt said the community had not been ‘‘resting on the laurels’’ following the Ruataniwha dam decision and it was looking at various means of supplementing the water supply, such as alternative water storage.
Committee member Mike Mohi said lifting the minimum flows would have a significant impact on jobs in the community, which had been strongly led to believe that the dam would go ahead.
‘‘We’re faced with a real tragedy for a lot of our families, right down to the kohanga reo, if this kicks in next summer. It’s not just the 76. It’s a huge community,’’ Mohi said.
Cr Tom Belford said it was a ‘‘fool’s errand to hold out this little candle’’ of changing the limits and it was time to ‘‘just get on with it’’.
He said water users had had plenty of time to look at alternatives.
New water limits will come into effect for the Tukituki River next year, meaning tighter rules for irrigators.