Judging from recent excited Government pronouncements on water harvesting and irrigation, perhaps the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council should call off its various ‘stakeholder’ charades consultations regarding three such projects planned for our region.
Ag Minister Carter is gushing over fourteen water schemes Government wants to speed up around the country, including those in our region. A $35 million ‘irrigation acceleration fund’ in the coming budget will be used to bring the projects to the point where they will be presentable for investment consideration. Then another $400 million will be used to fund Government stakes in the projects, in hopes of attracting other investors into what could become $9 billion in water infrastructure investment.
The projects under consideration in Hawke’s Bay are:
- Ruataniwha (Stage 1 – 17,000 hectares): Feasibility $1.3m, Consenting & Design $2m, Construction $60m
- Ruataniwha (Stage 2 – 6,000 hectares): Consenting & Design $2m, Construction $40m
- Ngaruroro (10,000 hectares): Feasibility $2m, Consenting & Design $2m, Land Access Design $15m, Construction $50m
- Tutaekuri (8,000 hectares): Feasibility $2m, Consenting & Design $2m, Construction $50m
Adds up, doesn’t it?!
A study prepared by outside consultants for MAF uses macro-economic models to predict billions of dollars of economic benefit — of course — from building the infrastructure and resulting increased agricultural production.
Of great interest will be the mix of farm production that is expected to yield these benefits. Looking across the entire set of fourteen projects irrigating 347,000 hectares nationwide, the assumed mix, as cited in the Cabinet decision paper is: 42% of this area goes to dairy, 16% to mixed livestock, 27% to arable, 11% to dairy support and 4% to horticulture. Moooo!
I am an appointed member of HBRC’s stakeholder group supposedly reviewing the Ruataniwha project. And I’ve been trying to keep an open mind, seeing this as a potential win-win opportunity. However, HBRC is making it harder and harder. We have yet to be shown any information on the projected ‘land use change’ (as they euphemistically refer to land use intensification) that is presumed for the Hawke’s Bay projects … and therefore what kind of farm production would be driving any economic return on investment. Is it dairying? Is it squash? Who knows?
Of course, the ultimate land use will also dramatically affect the environmental viability of the projects. Our stakeholder group has been given no information or analysis on those either. Simply bland assurances that increased river flows will be made possible in the dry months. No mention of increased farm run-off, whether from chemical use or animal waste.
I would note that the Cabinet paper includes no real discussion of environmental impacts. It says:
“Under some circumstances, the development of new irrigation infrastructure can also provide opportunities to address environmental degradation, particularly where current water abstraction has led to low flows (which can in turn exacerbate quality problems). For example, storage capacity can be designed and built to provide for augmented environmental and recreational flows.”
But it basically sloughs off such considerations to Environment Minister Smith and his concurrent announcement of a too feeble national freshwater policy (more on that another day!). Although it waxes eloquent about economic benefits, the Cabinet paper simply notes: “Social and environmental impacts were not considered as part of this analysis.”
Meantime, our HB Regional Council is primarily interested in shouting to Government that our region (to say nothing of the endangered Regional Council itself) is clamoring to jump on board the Government’s irrigation bandwagon. Consequently, they’re too busy singing a “we can do it … count us in” hosanna chorus to Government to supply any meaningful information to mere stakeholders in the region.
The irrigation schemes are a fait accompli. Indeed, ‘WaterCo’ is already the presumed driver of the Investment Company the HBRC lusts after.
So I ask … why bother with water harvesting stakeholder groups at all? Just get on with selling us shares of WaterCo.
P.S. You can get all the relevant Government documents here.