Last Friday the stakeholders group on which I serve was informed by the Regional Council that the Central Hawke’s Bay water storage scheme was now down to one potentially viable dam (you might recall that this exercise began with sixteen or so potential storage sites under investigation).
That dam would be on the Makaroro River (a tributary of the Tukituki) and would create a reservoir holding up to 75 million cubic metres of water, capable, we are told, of providing water security for present and future irrigators of 30,000+ hectares of CHB farmland (and maybe even some of their downstream cousins … more on that later), as well as augmenting Tukituki River flows in the dry summer months … a potential benefit to the river ecosystem and recreational users of the river.
That single dam has become the ‘Holy Grail’ of the HBRC’s $2 million ‘feasibility study’ of potential water harvesting and storage in the Tukituki catchment.
If the feasibility study determines that this dam solution, like the 15 that have preceded it, is unworkable, there will be a flock of Regional Councillors and senior staff with major egg on their face.
However, the odds of this last dam being found ‘infeasible’ are rather slim. As we’re told, too much is riding on it — the future of farming in Central Hawke’s Bay, the ecological health of the Tukituki catchment, the Bay’s economic resilience in the face of global warming-induced drought, and the product stream and cash flow of commercial players like Watties, McCains and even the Port of Napier.
Indeed, the Regional Council is preparing a communications offensive, crafted by an Auckland consulting team, to begin selling the project to the Bay’s unwashed … only if it’s feasible, of course!
I suggest the PR push might begin with farmers in CHB, who are beginning to worry whether the potential benefits of the scheme are worth its costs. At Friday’s stakeholder meeting, a ‘very preliminary’ figure was thrown out indicating the infrastructure cost of the dam and its water delivery network to the farmgate might be $9,400 per (potentially irrigated) hectare. One farmer commented that figure was a non-starter. In his case that price would require him to take a $3 million loan to access the scheme, plus another $500,000 for the distribution system on his farm. What kind of farming might make that worthwhile, and who would own such farms? Of course the bogeyman is dairy farming, in the worst case, foreign-owned (although conceivably other high return crops might be possible).
Friday’s discussion underscored that any CHB water harvesting project would affect much more than CHB farmers. It would affect the entire Tukituki catchment, including both irrigators and recreational users the entire length of the Tukituki River, and obviously the ecosystem itself.
In parallel with its water harvesting inquiry, the Regional Council is preparing to address Tukituki water over-allocation and poor water quality in the face of water consents that will begin expiring in 2013. A new allocation scheme and new minimum flows (which are supposed to protect the river) will be proposed. And, as BayBuzz has recently reported, the HBRC and CHB will soon need to deal with effluent discharge into the Tuki from Waipuk and Waipawa sewage treatment ponds. In fact, $800,000 of HBRC environment-related water research, funded as part of the dam feasibility study, will soon be available to inform all policy and planning decisions related to the Tuki.
With so much happening with respect to the Tuki, it’s worth considering whether the water harvesting stakeholder group should be expanded in both mission and membership to take into account the complete set of Tukituki issues and interests, from ‘source to sea’.
Meantime, 31 October is the target date for deciding whether the Makaroro dam is a go-er from just an engineering standpoint. Then results from a dozen or so environmental impact studies will start to appear around year-end. And somewhere along the line, a pricing scheme will be floated to see if the project is affordable, in the first instance, to current CHB farmers.
Anyone placing bets on the Makaroro?