Are the wheels starting to fall off the Regional Council’s dam?

Two weeks ago, I published Hawke’s Bay’s Biggest Gamble Ever in the September/October BayBuzz magazine … an article about the Regional Council’s proposed water storage scheme in Central Hawke’s Bay and related Tukituki management plans.

That started sparking the questions … both as I conducted the research for the article and via reader response.

Then, last night, at a public forum sponsored by EIT, I delivered this critique of the Regional Council’s approach. Please read it.

I included this list of risks or uncertainties associated with the Regional Council’s plans:

  • Get the water quality standards wrong, and/or mis-apply them in the catchment
  • Fail to deliver the higher minimum flows promised
  • Miscalculate the additional amount of pollution intensified farming will produce
  • Adopt mitigation measures that are too weak and non-mandatory
  • Over-estimate adoption of ‘best practices’ by farmers
  • Under-estimate the costs of controlling the pollution
  • Find insufficient CHB farmer interest in buying into the scheme (there’s no queue forming at the Regional Council’s door today!)
  • Lose local control of our water, our land and the profits

These are all areas in need of serious independent review.

Since last night, I’ve been approached by three more individuals with first-hand experience with farming practices in the proposed irrigation footprint of the dam and/or with on-farm economics in that region.

What these folks say reinforces my critique.

A key point they make is that water is not the chief or only limiting factor to more farm productivity in CHB; soil quality, drainage and weather issues pose serious limitations (and can compromise effective mitigation of leaching and runoff).

Here’s what Regional Councillors need to understand, as superficially informed as they have been so far about the project.

Don’t drink the Kool-Aid!

As more detailed information about the project becomes known, more people with relevant expertise, but not part of the cozy club that has been selectively cultivated by the Regional Council, are beginning to ask informed questions. Questions about the anticipated farming types and their suitability, about the increases in productivity projected, about the predictions of increased nutrients into the water, about financial and economic assumptions (and this last area is where the HBRC has been most secretive).

What the Regional Council has done is surround itself with a coterie of ‘true believers’, wishful thinkers, and dependent consultants. And they all drink the Kool-Aid — they tell each other what each wants to hear … the scheme is fantastic!

But that’s exactly why this $600 million (and climbing) project needs far more time and scrutiny under the public microscope. The proposal needs to be examined by informed outsiders who don’t stand to earn a fee and make a direct financial gain from the project.

And that’s why over 200 people at the EIT forum last night voted for a resolution from the floor urging the Regional Council to continue the public consultation process for six more months.

Only one Regional Councillor attended this forum, Liz Remmerswaal. The rest were too busy drinking the Kool-Aid. I’d be happy to debate any one of them on this issue. This group shuns public opposition and is nowhere close to being able to make an informed decision about this scheme by their self-imposed end-of-October deadline. There’s no reason this process needs to be as accelerated as it is.

For Councillors to make an affirmative decision in October to declare the water storage scheme feasible would be a serious breach of their fiduciary responsibility, to say nothing of their stewardship responsibility for the Tukituki catchment.

Tom Belford

P.S. Please pass along this post (the links will travel with it) to as many people as you can. You — and they — need to speak out, contact Regional Councillors, and insist on more time for the water scheme to be reviewed.

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1 Comment

  1. Au contraire, Tom. There’s one very good reason to make a decision before mid-October. It’s called an election. They want to have it done & dusted and tied irreversibly into HBRIC’s hands – just in case they lose majority (Councillor) support.

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