No dam – not enough wa­ter

Cen­tral Hawke’s Bay wa­ter users face a strug­gle over the sum­mer as re­stric­tions on sur­face wa­ter takes and fall­ing aquifer lev­els bite.

The Orchardist - - Water - By Rose Man­ner­ing

A task force has been set up to work through Cen­tral Hawke’s Bay wa­ter short­age is­sues, at the same time as a con­certed push to gain bet­ter sci­en­tific knowl­edge of the aquifer be­neath the Ru­atani­wha Plains and its recharge char­ac­ter­is­tics.

The joint Hawke’s Bay Re­gional Coun­cil (HBRC) and Cen­tral Hawke’s Bay Dis­trict Coun­cil(CHBC) task­force ac­knowl­edges that ground­wa­ter lev­els in the Ru­atani­wha Basin have dropped as ex­trac­tion for ir­ri­ga­tion has dra­mat­i­cally in­creased over the last few years. The fall­out flows through to all wa­ter users in the Tuk­i­tuki catch­ment, in­clud­ing hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ists who bound the Tuk­i­tuki River on the Here­taunga Plains.

Six years of plan­ning by the HBRC for a mega-dam in the foothills of the Ruahine Ranges to over­come over-al­lo­ca­tion is­sues on the Ru­atani­wha Plains and to im­prove the wa­ter qual­ity in the Tuk­i­tuki River came to a halt in July last year, with plans for the dam shelved. It had been pro­moted along­side a plan to in­crease wa­ter flow in the Tuk­i­tuki River to im­prove wa­ter qual­ity and flora/fauna in the river. Despite the halt­ing of the dam, this Tuk­i­tuki Plan Change 6 went ahead and farm­ers and grow­ers who have sur­face or sur­face con­nected wa­ter takes con­nected to the river face the prospect of bans com­ing into place ear­lier to pro­tect the river level. Many have said this threat­ens their liveli­hood and al­ready land use has be­gun to change as grow­ers and farm­ers in this area do not have a se­cure wa­ter sup­ply.

Here­taunga Plains wa­ter users also face chal­lenges on a num­ber of lev­els as the HBRC has opted to not al­low any more wa­ter al­lo­ca­tions, as the wa­ter con­sented vol­ume ex­ceeds pre­ferred lev­els.

HBRC coun­cil­lor and Cen­tral Hawke’s Bay res­i­dent Deb­bie He­witt chairs the wa­ter task­force. “We will be bring­ing all af­fected par­ties to the ta­ble; with­out the dam, Cen­tral Hawke’s Bay faces some ma­jor chal­lenges,” she said.

“All of our de­ci­sions will be based on science, not emo­tion.”

She was a strong dam sup­porter, which she said would have pro­vided im­pe­tus for growth in the dis­trict. En­vi­ron­men­tal

“Hor­ti­cul­ture is a very ef­fi­cient user of wa­ter, par­tic­u­larly tree and vine crops.”

con­cerns ul­ti­mately scut­tled the dam pro­posal, par­tic­u­larly with con­cerns more wa­ter would lead to more dairy farm­ing and greater nu­tri­ent run-off into the al­ready

frag­ile Tuk­i­tuki catch­ment.

HBRC has a pro­gramme of science un­der­way, which in­cludes re­view­ing the ground­wa­ter mon­i­tor­ing net­work to re-de­velop the Ru­atani­wha Ground­wa­ter Model, in­ves­ti­gat­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of man­aged aquifer recharge, and plans for an elec­tro-mag­netic ae­rial sur­vey of the aquifer ge­ol­ogy. They will give the coun­cil the abil­ity to man­age the wa­ter takes and their im­pacts with far greater pre­ci­sion and cer­tainty.

He­witt said de­ci­sions will be re­worked within the new pol­icy frame­work.

“This might mean un­der­tak­ing some­thing sim­i­lar to Twyford {on the Here­taunga Plains}, where shar­ing of con­sents eased pres­sure on those with not enough wa­ter,” she said.

Coun­cil staff are look­ing at so­lu­tions such as a man­aged aquifer recharge (akin to build­ing a leaky dam) where wa­ter fil­ters back through grav­els, and in­creases sur­face flows. This method has suc­cess­fully been used in Can­ter­bury and in Gis­borne di­rect in­jec­tion of wa­ter has also proved suc­cess­ful.

The task­force has a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of sur­face wa­ter con­sent hold­ers; 45 deep wa­ter bore users (ground­wa­ter users in­clud­ing around 600 hectares of or­chards run by Mr Ap­ple near On­gaonga and Tikokino), eight ap­pli­cants for new con­sents of “Tranche 2” wa­ter made avail­able when the HBRC with­drew its dam ap­pli­ca­tion, On­gaonga and Tikokino which face bores dry­ing up and un­sure wa­ter sup­plies, en­vi­ron­men­tal groups Fish & Game, and For­est & Bird, iwi and the Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion.

Sur­face users un­suc­cess­fully ap­plied to the Re­gional Plan­ning Com­mit­tee (half HBRC rep­re­sen­ta­tives and half iwi) to hold off Plan Change 6 in­crease to river flow lev­els in the Tuk­i­tuki River, but were turned down. The failed dam would have been used to aug­ment the Tuk­i­tuki River and keep flow lev­els up, but with­out this op­tion the sum­mer poses a se­ri­ous threat of ban to sur­face users. He­witt said the mat­ter is ur­gent be­cause as soon as the river drops these users will be placed on ban.

“This is hav­ing an im­me­di­ate ef­fect on land users on the Ru­atani­wha Plains, as farm­ers are choos­ing to plant lower value crops rather than risk not hav­ing enough wa­ter to get them through the sum­mer,” she said.

Be­tween 2014 and 2017, eight ap­pli­cants, in­clud­ing ma­jor dairy op­er­a­tions, ap­plied to the re­gional coun­cil to col­lec­tively ex­tract 17 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres of “Tranche 2” ground­wa­ter from the Ru­atani­wha Basin. HBRC had pre­vi­ously held this con­sent and planned to ser­vice ar­eas in CHB which would not have been cov­ered by the dam wa­ter, but re­lin­quished the con­sents when it shelved the dam plan. These ap­pli­ca­tions will also be con­sid­ered by the task­force. These are likely to be pub­licly no­ti­fied hear­ings but the HBRC is await­ing new sci­en­tific anal­y­sis be­fore pro­ceed­ing fur­ther.

Hawke’s Bay fruit­grower and HBRC chair­man, Rex Gra­ham, stood for the coun­cil along with en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Tom Belford on a “stop the dam” ticket in 2016. He re­mains up­beat about the prospects for Ru­atani­wha, say­ing the fu­ture will be “phe­nom­e­nally good”.

“We will sort out the wa­ter is­sue,” he said.

“There is huge op­por­tu­nity for hor­ti­cul­ture there. Hor­ti­cul­ture is a very ef­fi­cient user of wa­ter, par­tic­u­larly tree and vine crops.”

Cli­mate change will mean a warmer cli­mate, and he said the “great plains with great fer­til­ity” will be suit­able for a range of dif­fer­ent crops,” he said.

“All of our de­ci­sions will be based on science, not emo­tion.”

– Deb­bie He­witt

The fu­ture for the plains lies in grow­ing grains and hor­ti­cul­ture crops but there will be a pe­riod of pain to get to this.

“There is no magic wand but I can guar­an­tee you we will get there,” he said.

“We are com­ing out of an ex­treme pe­riod where we thought we had an in­ex­haustible chunk of wa­ter. There is ev­i­dence this is not the case and we need to work out where we get to from here - in the end we will need to look at land use.”

He pre­dicts quan­tum changes in pro­duc­tion away from meat and milk farm­ing.

“Both aquifers are over-al­lo­cated, we are work­ing hard to sort that out now,” he said.

“We can’t have wa­ter as an im­ped­i­ment to growth and most pad­docks have got

con­sented wa­ter.”

An im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion needs to be made be­tween wa­ter use vol­umes and wa­ter con­sent vol­umes as con­sents are over-al­lo­cated but wa­ter use is at ac­cept­able lev­els on the Here­taunga Plains. Plan­ning ahead for sus­tain­able wa­ter man­age­ment be­gan in 2012 when HBRC formed a big stake­holder group roughly rep­re­sent­ing the wider com­mu­nity to look at the best way to man­age the wa­ter­ways of the Tu­taekuri, Ahuriri, Ngaruroro and Karamu catch­ments. The project quickly be­came known as TANK

Af­ter six years TANK had its fi­nal meet­ing and gave pol­i­cy­writ­ers ba­sic rec­om­men­da­tions for a plan change in July. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, iwi and land users failed to find con­sen­sus on seven is­sues from the TANK work with aug­men­ta­tion, wa­ter stor­age and river flow lev­els fea­tur­ing. The Re­gional Plan­ning Com­mit­tee will make a rul­ing in each of these ar­eas to the HBRC from the TANK draft plan.

Gra­ham said the group had cov­ered off a huge amount of science in the six years of its ex­is­tence. New ground­wa­ter science re­leased in 2017 shows the wa­ter­ways and aquifer be­low the Here­taunga Plains are highly in­ter-con­nected, like a big bath­tub.

“It might seem a bot­tom­less wa­ter re­source, but it's re­ally a wa­ter TANK flow­ing above and be­low ground,” ac­cord­ing to the HBRC web­site.

It rep­re­sents a chal­leng­ing bal­anc­ing act be­tween wa­ter use and pro­tec­tion.

Just to make a com­plex is­sue even more com­plex,en­vi­ron­men­tal groups Fish & Game and For­est & Bird have ap­plied for a Wa­ter Con­ser­va­tion Or­der over the cen­tral wa­ter source to the Here­taunga Plains, the whole of the Ngaruroro River. Gra­ham is irate that the or­der can be ap­plied for over the top of the im­mense ef­fort that HBRC and TANK have put into man­ag­ing its own wa­ter­ways.

“We have our TANK process,” he said.

“Ev­ery­one is rep­re­sented in an at­tempt to work so­lu­tions for all and they have done a fan­tas­tic job.”

He strongly crit­i­cises the en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and their crit­i­cism of com­mu­nity-based de­ci­sions.

“Our de­ci­sions meet two key ob­jec­tives: keep­ing the econ­omy strong with plenty of jobs and build­ing a strong sus­tain­able en­vi­ron­ment,” he said.

“We don’t need ex­trem­ists in this process.”

He ac­knowl­edges TANK was al­ways go­ing to be a com­pro­mise.

TANK mem­ber and Heinz Wat­tie se­nior crop sup­ply agron­o­mist, Bruce Mackay, said he first be­came in­volved with the TANK group as he was shocked at out­comes for Tuk­i­tuki wa­ter users when Plan Change 6 was mooted.

“I had over-rid­ing con­cerns about the se­cu­rity of wa­ter sup­ply, with their only op­tion to bank sur­face con­nected takes,” he said.

“We will sort out the wa­ter is­sue.”

– Rex Gra­ham

Tan­gi­ble ef­fects of the ratch­et­ing river flows in the Tuk­i­tuki have al­ready had a marked neg­a­tive im­pact on land use in the catch­ment. Leases for or­chard prop­er­ties have been can­celled and rentals have se­verely de­creased. An ex­port ap­ple or­chard is now only be­ing grown for process as they don’t have wa­ter to fin­ish an ex­port crop and a rel­a­tively young stone­fruit crop has been re­moved. Ir­ri­gated arable farms have been leased at dry­land rates be­cause there is no se­cu­rity around wa­ter sup­ply.

All sur­face and sur­face con­nected con­sents will be sub­ject to ban in the Tuk­i­tuki catch­ment this sum­mer. This year, when river flows in the Tuk­i­tuki reach 3500 litres/sec­ond at the Red Bridge, bans will be im­posed.

Mackay is philo­soph­i­cal about the fi­nal out­come of years of de­lib­er­a­tion through the TANK process.

“We were not miles apart,” he said.

“It is now up to the re­gional plan­ning com­mit­tee to con­sider the find­ings and make a rec­om­men­da­tion to the full coun­cil.”

He be­lieves the Ngaruroro and Tu­taekuri Rivers are in much bet­ter con­di­tion than the Tuk­i­tuki, just with some smaller lo­calised is­sues. The big­gest is­sues in these catch­ments are sed­i­ment loss, and tools such as ri­par­ian plant­ing, stock ex­clu­sion and forestry as an al­ter­na­tive land use is be­ing pro­moted.

“If the Ru­atani­wha dam had been driven by hor­ti­cul­ture in­stead of dairy­ing it would have stood a much bet­ter chance of suc­cess.”

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