‘Don’t grant new ir­ri­ga­tion rights’

Ongaonga farmer Alis­tair Set­ter says both ru­ral and ur­ban ar­eas of CHB will wear the ef­fects of fur­ther wa­ter con­sents. He chats to Mark Story

Hawke's Bay Today - - Local News -

1Some say there’s no proof of a ca­sual cor­re­la­tion be­tween pri­vate res­i­dents’ cur­rent wa­ter short­ages and in­creased vol­umes taken by big ir­ri­ga­tors. What’s your stance on this? HBRC mon­i­tor bores show de­clines in wa­ter lev­els of over 20 me­tres in the last 20 years. The de­clines have been no­tice­able ev­ery year and have ac­cel­er­ated in the last five years. Ir­ri­ga­tion on the Ru­atani­wha Plains started 20 years ago. On top of this there are many sto­ries of farm­ers and res­i­dents need­ing to lower their bores and in­stall sub­mersible pumps.

There are also many con­cern­ing sto­ries of de­clines in river, stream and spring flow — ex­tend­ing out east of Waipawa and Waipuku­rau. The de­com­mis­sion­ing of the wa­ter races had an ef­fect, al­though, that was over 15 years ago. 2It’s been aired that said big ir­ri­ga­tors should be sub­sid­ing the costs for res­i­dents who need to fork out for deeper bores. Do you favour this? I be­lieve that if the ir­ri­ga­tors are caus­ing an is­sue to the en­vi­ron­ment or to other farm­ers and res­i­dents they need to pay for the so­lu­tion to that is­sue. How­ever, ir­ri­ga­tors rely on the re­gional coun­cil to man­age the wa­ter re­source and get it right for ev­ery­one. At the mo­ment the crit­i­cal as­pect to get right is to sta­bilise the aquifer and not al­low any fur­ther degra­da­tion.

Cur­rently, all the sci­ence con­cludes the aquifer will sta­bilise at the cur­rent wa­ter usage/con­sent lev­els. Let’s all hope this is the case. The key is that no new ir­ri­ga­tion rights should be granted. Tranche 2 rep­re­sents a 53 per cent in­crease in aquifer con­sent, an out­right threat to sta­bil­is­ing the aquifer and sur­face wa­ter in CHB.

3Is it pri­mar­ily the dairy­ing sec­tor that needs to lift its game?

Dairy farm­ing or any par­tic­u­lar type of farm­ing is not re­ally the is­sue. I cer­tainly be­lieve wa­ter needs to be val­ued and used re­spon­si­bly — what­ever the in­dus­try. Some of the dairy farms in Cen­tral Hawke’s Bay are best in class and have had ma­jor pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tions to our com­mu­nity. 4Farm­ing and CHB go hand-in­glove. Are we wit­ness­ing the be­gin­nings of a rift be­tween the dis­trict’s res­i­den­tial ver­sus farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties? Wa­ter is a crit­i­cal is­sue for ev­ery­one in Cen­tral Hawke’s Bay. Farm­ers need wa­ter for stock and their own house­holds. Any threat to wa­ter se­cu­rity for this pur­pose rep­re­sents a mas­sive risk, so­cially and eco­nom­i­cally. Farm­ers who use wa­ter for ir­ri­ga­tors have the risks as well. Sur­face wa­ter users are fac­ing new more re­stric­tive min­i­mum flows and the deep aquifer users do not want their bores to lose any per­for­mance.

The Tranche 2 wa­ter con­sents, if they were to go ahead, would take 650 litres per sec­ond out of the river, mean­ing that sur­face wa­ter users will be in ban ear­lier and for longer — even if the river is aug­mented. The town­ships use a sur­face-take con­sent so this will mean wa­ter bans for town res­i­dents will come in ear­lier and for longer as well. It also means there is an out­right risk to springs and wa­ter bores for farms, in­clud­ing farms a long way out from the Ru­atani­wha Plains. To this end, I be­lieve the com­mu­nity — farm­ers and town res­i­dents — are united in op­pos­ing the Tranche 2 wa­ter con­sent ap­pli­ca­tion.

5You’ve asked re­gional coun­cil to step up. What op­tions does it have?

The HBRC re­ally need to get ahead of this is­sue. The first step is to ac­knowl­edge things have changed due to ir­ri­ga­tion. Es­sen­tially, there has been a 20-year ex­per­i­ment with the in­tro­duc­tion of ir­ri­ga­tion and the re­sults are com­ing in now. The HBRC did have a good plan to store wa­ter in the dam pro­ject, but that failed. Now they need to look at a Plan B. I do be­lieve they are on the right track with in­creas­ing the re­sources ded­i­cated to re­mod­elling the aquifer and finding solutions to sta­bilise the sur­face wa­ter that we all de­pend on.

I be­lieve how­ever, that the HBRC needs to step up and take a lead­er­ship po­si­tion on Tranche 2. It has been five years since the

Board of In­quiry al­lowed the wishes of a spe­cial in­ter­est group to in­tro­duce the wa­ter al­lo­ca­tion. A lot has changed since then. The Board of In­quiry gave the HBRC dis­cre­tionary rights to grant or not grant the con­sent ap­pli­ca­tions. I hope they lis­ten to the united voice of Cen­tral Hawke’s Bay, lis­ten to their own sci­ence and make a bold state­ment dis­cour­ag­ing the few Tranche 2 ap­pli­cants from go­ing any fur­ther.

I also be­lieve that the HBRC should in­di­cate that Tranche 2 is wrong to be in Plan Change 6 and that at the next amend­ment op­por­tu­nity it will be re­moved.

PHOTO/SUP­PLIED

Farmer Alis­tair Set­ter is urg­ing re­gional coun­cil to front-foot the dis­trict’s wa­ter woes.

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