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