Ground­wa­ter fears

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Con­cerns are grow­ing about the im­pact re­quests to take an­other 15 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres of ground­wa­ter from the Ru­atani­wha Plains will have on the en­vi­ron­ment and the avail­abil­ity of wa­ter for CHB towns.

Be­tween 2014 and 2017, eight ap­pli­cants, in­clud­ing ma­jor dairy op­er­a­tions, ap­plied to the re­gional coun­cil to col­lec­tively ex­tract 17 mil­lion m3 of ‘tranche 2' ground­wa­ter from the Ru­atani­wha Basin.

The Board of In­quiry into Tuk­i­tuki Plan Change 6 de­ter­mined that an ad­di­tional 15 mil­lion m3 a year of ‘tranche 2' ground­wa­ter could be ex­tracted as a dis­cre­tionary ac­tiv­ity if the ad­verse en­vi­ron­men­tal ef­fects could be mit­i­gated by river flow aug­men­ta­tion.

As such, any tranche 2 ground­wa­ter con­sent holder would be re­quired to re­lease up to 40 per cent of the wa­ter they take into rivers and streams at times of low flows.

The re­gional coun­cil's in­vest­ment arm, HBRIC Ltd, the com­pany pro­mot­ing the dam and the Ru­atani­wha Wa­ter Stor­age Scheme (RWSS), had a claim to 10 mil­lion m3 of tranche 2 ground­wa­ter but with­drew its ap­pli­ca­tion last Oc­to­ber, leav­ing the eight re­main­ing ap­pli­ca­tions.

These ap­pli­ca­tions were on hold, await­ing more de­tails on the aug­men­ta­tion schemes, but in the mean­time CHB farmer Alis­tair Set­ter had writ­ten to the re­gional coun­cil chief ex­ec­u­tive and coun­cil­lors call­ing for the con­sents to be pub­licly no­ti­fied, or bet­ter still ter­mi­nated, amid fears of the en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial con­se­quences.

Backed by other res­i­dents, farm­ers and Forest and Bird, he said the ram­i­fi­ca­tions were wide rang­ing if the con­sents went ahead.

“Many farm­ers and busi­nesses that use stream de­plet­ing bores are fac­ing the prospect of re­duced wa­ter avail­abil­ity in the com­ing years, due to the min­i­mum flows in the Waipawa and Tuk­i­tuki Rivers be­ing in­creased.

“CHB town­ships use wa­ter from stream de­plet­ing sources — while they can take wa­ter dur­ing ban pe­ri­ods for hu­man wel­fare, it means strict com­mu­nity wa­ter re­stric­tions.”

He noted that at his prop­erty at Swamp Rd, springs and wa­ter­ways that had never be­fore stopped run­ning had done so twice in the last two years, and that many On­gaonga res­i­dents had been forced to redrill and lower their bores at the time the larger ir­ri­ga­tors started in the area in 2004/2005.

His con­cerns were echoed by CHB coun­cil­lor Tim Chote who said the sit­u­a­tion had gone un­der the radar.

“We have to stand up — I'm wor­ried for the ratepay­ers and the pos­si­bil­ity you could all of a sud­den get wa­ter re­stric­tions — we have to know what's go­ing to hap­pen with this.”

Tikokino farmer Ge­orge Wil­liams said he was con­cerned about any in­creased take from the aquifer.

“That is go­ing to­tally against what the re­gional coun­cil has stood up for since the mora­to­rium was put on any fur­ther al­lo­ca­tions — to turn take an­other 15 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres, even though some would be put back in the river, is go­ing to af­fect ev­ery­one.”

CHB farmer and for­mer CHB mayor and re­gional coun­cil­lor Tim Gil­bert­son said if con­cerned lo­cal peo­ple had not raised the alarm about the con­sent­ing process no one would have been aware that eight peo­ple could en­joy a mas­sive ben­e­fit at the ex­pense of the rest of the district.

“If coun­cil has 15 to 20 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres in its own back pocket, it's money in the bank to en­cour­age or ap­ply new and ex­cit­ing, prof­itable, high value, low in­put crops like hemp, rather than low value, high in­put en­ter­prises such as dairy farm­ing,” he added.

He also noted that all the in­for­ma­tion was based on a model.

“Fif­teen years ago we were told there was no con­nec­tion be­tween ir­ri­ga­tion and the de­ple­tion of On­gaonga's wa­ter — there's no guar­an­tee that the model they are us­ing now was any bet­ter than others used over the years.”

For On­gaonga res­i­dent Bill Steven­son, who had to put a new sub­mersible pump into his well to ac­cess di­min­ish­ing ground­wa­ter, the thought that there could be ad­di­tional extraction was a worry.

“We've been deal­ing with drop­ping wa­ter lev­els for 14 years. In my opin­ion any fur­ther ground­wa­ter extraction has to be stopped.”

Peter Kit­tow farms on the out­skirts of Waipawa and said he could not un­der­stand why these con­sents were even be­ing con­tem­plated in the face of the ev­i­dence that the ground­wa­ter lev­els were drop­ping.

“If the rivers are be­ing de­pleted there needs to be a step back. Any more ir­ri­ga­tion con­sents should be ter­mi­nated un­til the con­trol­ling bod­ies have a greater un­der­stand­ing of what that up­take means for the fu­ture.”

Gain­ing that un­der­stand­ing was part of a process that was un­der way in con­sid­er­ing the tranche 2 wa­ter take ap­pli­ca­tions, said Hawke's Bay Re­gional Coun­cil chief ex­ec­u­tive James Palmer.

He said the is­sue arose from the Plan Change 6 Board of In­quiry (BOI) process, when the Ru­atani­wha Dam was pitched as be­ing part of the so­lu­tion to man­age over-al­lo­ca­tion of wa­ter on the plains.

Dur­ing devel­op­ment of the

plan change a num­ber of ir­ri­ga­tors dis­puted the sci­ence, he said.

“They said there's deep wa­ter below that's not be­ing cap­tured by coun­cil sci­ence and that they should be able to take that wa­ter.

“The coun­cil dis­puted that but in the clos­ing stages of the BOI process the board de­cided it would throw a bone to those con­cerns and said there could be an al­lo­ca­tion of an ex­tra 15 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres as long as it was off­set by aug­men­ta­tion ei­ther from stor­age or a pro­por­tion of the ground wa­ter take.”

He said the coun­cil was un­easy about this as it seemed to be “rob­bing Peter to pay Paul”.

“The coun­cil view was that it could be done sus­tain­ably by off­set­ting the ground­wa­ter take with equal wa­ter stored above ground — that would only have been fea­si­ble if the dam had gone ahead.”

He said the dam was a cru­cial fac­tor in the sus­tain­abil­ity of the wa­ter re­source, which was why HBRIC put in its ap­pli­ca­tion for the en­tire 15 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres, later wound back to 10 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres.

“In the in­ter­ven­ing pe­riod ev­ery­thing was put on hold sub­ject to the dam pro­ceed­ing and no con­sents were pro­cessed.

“When the dam fell over those wa­ter con­sents came up the cue and reignited the is­sue — we now have to do more sci­ence to see how to mit­i­gate the flows on the sur­face — 40 per cent of ground wa­ter taken at any one time would need to be put back in river to man­age the ef­fects in the short term but that does not solve the long term is­sue.

“The coun­cil's pref­er­ence would have been to have never had this tranche 2 wa­ter but now we have a le­gal obli­ga­tion un­der the plan to give these ap­pli­ca­tions due con­sid­er­a­tion — it would be a hard process to ter­mi­nate.”

Any changes to Plan Change 6 would have to go through a com­pre­hen­sive process which would cost sev­eral hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars and take nine to 12 months, with the pos­si­bil­ity of fu­ture ap­peals.

“It's an in­vid­i­ous po­si­tion to be in for the coun­cil and com­mu­nity — our cur­rent po­si­tion is that we will not be processing any con­sents un­til we have more sci­ence,” he said, adding there was at least two more months of work.

Re­gional coun­cil chair­man Rex Gra­ham said the con­cerns raised seemed plau­si­ble, but he wanted to un­der­stand the sci­ence bet­ter.

“... We could grant the con­sents, we could pub­licly no­tify them, we could ter­mi­nate them, but we need to know more to do the right thing.”

PHOTO / DUNCAN BROWN

Farm­ers Peter Kit­tow, Alis­tair Set­ter, Ge­orge Wil­liams and coun­cil­lor Tim Chote of Cen­tral Hawke's Bay District Coun­cil, pic­tured by the wa­ter pump­ing sta­tion in Waipawa.

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