Waimea dam a step closer to re­al­ity

The pro­posed Waimea Com­mu­nity Dam near Nel­son is a step closer with the lo­cal coun­cil’s de­ci­sion to un­der­write a pro­posed $25 mil­lion loan from Crown Ir­ri­ga­tion In­vest­ments Ltd (CIIL), while ex­pres­sions of in­ter­est have been gained for 3,000ha of land to

The Orchardist - - Water - By Anne Hardie

Waimea Ir­ri­ga­tors Ltd (WIL) chair­man Mur­ray King has been part of the group lob­by­ing for a stor­age dam for the past 20 years and says that the $82 mil­lion dam is still the cheap­est op­tion for both ir­ri­ga­tors and the re­gion. The pro­posed dam would be a joint ven­ture be­tween WIL and the Tas­man Dis­trict Coun­cil.

At this stage, ir­ri­ga­tors are look­ing at pay­ing a cap­i­tal cost of $5,500/ha, plus on­go­ing op­er­at­ing costs be­tween $500 and $550/ha an­nu­ally for their share – the coun­cil will pay for its share of the op­er­at­ing costs. With­out the dam though, ir­ri­ga­tion will be cut to meet the re­quire­ments of the na­tional fresh­wa­ter pol­icy which is not be­ing achieved with to­day’s wa­ter man­age­ment prac­tices for the Waimea River.

That could spell the end to many ex­ist­ing hor­ti­cul­ture and agri­cul­ture in­dus­tries on the Waimea Plains. One mar­ket gar­dener who grows more than 30 va­ri­eties of veg­eta­bles on 160ha of land has said he will be out of the in­dus­try if the dam does not go ahead be­cause he needs a se­cure sup­ply of wa­ter.

The is­sue has been hotly de­bated by the public as the coun­cil pro­poses to con­trib­ute $25 mil­lion to­ward the project be­cause it recog­nises the ur­gent need to pro­vide a se­cure ur­ban wa­ter sup­ply as well as the wider public good of pro­tect­ing the river. At a coun­cil meet­ing in June, Tas­man mayor Richard Kempthorne used

his cast­ing vote to push through a res­o­lu­tion to in­crease ratepay­ers’ share of costs for the pro­posed dam and will en­able it to un­der­write the CIIL loan.

About $7 mil­lion will be funded by the Fresh­wa­ter Im­prove­ment Fund and it is an­tic­i­pated about $5 mil­lion from the Nel­son City Coun­cil, while more than $6 mil­lion has al­ready been spent on the pro­posal.

King says about 200 landown­ers have ex­pressed in­ter­est to invest in the dam which adds up to about 3,000ha and he ex­pects that will in­crease to meet the ir­ri­ga­tors’ $15 mil­lion share of the project. The plains con­tain some of the most fer­tile, pro­duc­tive land in the South Is­land and pro­duce a range of crops such as pipfruit, grapes, veg­eta­bles and hops. Life­style blocks are also part of the land­scape and all de­pend on wa­ter dur­ing sum­mer dry pe­ri­ods when the free-drain­ing stony soils dry out.

“They’re ac­cept­ing the al­ter­na­tive of stor­ing their own wa­ter will be about double this (Waimea dam share) and they will lose land.

“We had to get 3,000ha to give con­fi­dence to the Crown Ir­ri­ga­tion In­vest­ments and also con­fi­dence to the Tas­man Dis­trict Coun­cil as a joint ven­ture. We have to have some cer­tainty be­cause we have to put a PDS (Prod­uct Dis­clo­sure State­ment) out.”

As yet, con­trac­tors haven’t been able to pro­vide solid fig­ures for the dam build, though King says the $82 mil­lion is based on re­ports with a rea­son­able con­tin­gency built in and only 5%

prob­a­bil­ity of it in­creas­ing.

“But you need to have a con­trac­tor with a fixed fig­ure

locked and loaded.”

Go­ing for­ward, the project needs the on­go­ing sup­port and com­mit­ment from coun­cil­lors and King says it is sub­ject to po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions at

both lo­cal and cen­tral gov­ern­ment lev­els.

“And we prob­a­bly do need a drought,” he says, as that would re­veal the ef­fect of in­creased wa­ter re­stric­tions on both

ru­ral and ur­ban users.

“When we started this, it was a com­mu­nity thing to store sur­plus wa­ter and re­lease it when it’s needed, but no­body wants to pay.”

“With­out the dam,

the coun­cil warns wa­ter ra­tioning will kick in ear­lier dur­ing dry pe­ri­ods and will

be much harsher than in the past.”

The coun­cil has warned the re­gion that the Waimea River can­not sus­tain the amount of wa­ter be­ing taken and the pro­posed dam is the most cost-ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion when com­pared with al­ter­na­tives for the ur­ban wa­ter sup­ply alone. Nu­mer­ous schemes in­clud­ing var­i­ous dams and pump­ing wa­ter from other aquifers have been con­sid­ered over the years and they all worked out at higher cap­i­tal cost per cu­bic me­tre per day.

Kempthorne has told ratepay­ers that the pro­posed Waimea Dam is not a “done deal” and a full public con­sul­ta­tion process will be car­ried out once it has firm de­tails.

Ac­cord­ing to the Waimea Dam Eco­nomic As­sess­ment re­port car­ried out by the New Zealand In­sti­tute of Eco­nomic Re­search (NZIER) for the Nel­son Re­gional De­vel­op­ment Agency in July this year, the dam could in­crease GDP (Gross Do­mes­tic Pro­duc­tion) by as much as $923 mil­lion over 25 years. Whereas an­other re­port warned that a no-dam de­ci­sion could see the re­gion lose $1 bil­lion in GDP over 25 years.

With­out the dam, the coun­cil warns wa­ter ra­tioning will kick in ear­lier dur­ing dry pe­ri­ods and will be much harsher than in the past in or­der to meet the Tas­man Re­source Man­age­ment Plan rules which ap­ply from Novem­ber 2018. The rules are aimed at main­tain­ing a min­i­mum river flow of 800 litres per sec­ond. To achieve that with­out a dam, ur­ban wa­ter users will see their wa­ter us­age cut by 25– 40% nearly ev­ery sum­mer and in times of se­vere drought, up to 80%.

Each ir­ri­ga­tor on the plains has been given an in­di­ca­tion of their re­duced wa­ter al­lo­ca­tion if the dam does not go ahead or if they choose not to buy shares in it. The new al­lo­ca­tions are based on bona fide re­views of land that con­sid­ered soil and crop types as well as past ir­ri­ga­tion his­tory. Some blocks will have wa­ter al­lo­ca­tion cut by as much as 40% and the coun­cil has said that the to­tal re­duc­tion of wa­ter al­lo­ca­tion was still not enough to meet the sus­tain­able al­lo­ca­tion lim­its in its plan.

Not all ratepay­ers are con­vinced though, ques­tion­ing the facts and point­ing the fin­ger at the ir­ri­ga­tors for the wa­ter short­age and an­tic­i­pat­ing more in­ten­sive use of the plains. King, who is a dairy farmer, says there’s no room for dairy­ing to ex­pand on the plains and the value of the land is in hor­ti­cul­ture with crops such as pipfruit which have lit­tle en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact.

Waimea Ir­ri­ga­tors Ltd chair­man Mur­ray King has been work­ing on a pro­posed dam for 20 years.

Richard Kempthorne

Waimea Plains: With­out a dam, the fu­ture is un­cer­tain for the ta­pes­try of hor­ti­cul­ture crops that cover the Waimea Plains.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.