The HBRC is struggling to find its way on the issue of ‘water security’ in Central Hawke’s Bay (CHB).

Any credible examination of this issue must begin by answering the questions:

  1. How wisely are we using the water presently available – taking into account issues like efficiency of use, better soil management (i.e., retaining more rainwater), broad-based farming resilience, optimal environmental and economic benefit?
  2. What might we need more water for in the best long-term interests of the entire community?
  3. And only then comes the question, if we do need ‘more’ water for broad community benefit, how do we accomplish that?

Instead of following this logic, which could lead to a shared community vision, CHBDC and HBRC have repeatedly merely assembled irrigator-dominated ‘stakeholder groups’ to facilitate their unsurprising advocacy for large-scale water storage … which as everyone by now knows, means reviving the original Ruataniwha dam proposal.

HBRC will re-confront the situation next Wednesday at a meeting of its Corporate & Strategic Committee. The numbered paragraphs below from the Agenda paper provide a fairly succinct summary of the situation from the HBRC staff’s perspective. However, some aspects are highly debatable, as indicated by my comments in italics.

Moreover, some key contextual points are not offered in these paragraphs – or anywhere – in this decision document. Such as:

  • How defensible is the current allocation of water in CHB, with 42% presently awarded to six dairying operations? And the top 20 irrigators getting 65%. Should water storage be simply a band-aid to protect this mis-use of CHB’s natural water supply?
  • How does protecting the water access of these few voracious users contribute to building resilience to dry climate conditions throughout CHB for all farmers and growers?
  • Contrary to this staff summary, the Tonkin & Taylor analysis of alternative small scale storage schemes did in fact identify and recommend four sites (each in 3 to 8 million m3 range) for further feasibility examination (and a few somewhat larger ones). HBRC must be assuming no one will ever read the T&T report.
  • So why are these really being ruled out? A Tukituki “Leaders’ Forum is cited as advocating for “maximum” water storage in CHB. However the paper doesn’t note that the environmental members have resigned in protest over what they see as a predetermined effort to revive the original dam. So much for transparency and ‘community’ consensus.

So now, on to the staff recommendations (lifted verbatim from Agenda paper).

  1. Any assessment of above ground water storage options in CHB was likely to cover ground already traversed extensively through the RWSS project. While this project sought to identify other smaller scale sites that could operate to provide either environmental objectives by enhancing or maintaining summer flows and/or modest growth and resilience opportunities for extractive use, T&T’s analysis ultimately confirmed earlier conclusions around the technical and financial constraints of attempting to build medium-scale storage sites on the Ruataniwha plains area. [However, at least four sites were recommended for further feasibility analysis.] 
  2. This process has highlighted the unique and significant challenges for establishing water storage in a catchment with combined elements of a low ratepayer and a narrow extractive water user base. These pre-conditions make it challenging to spread or recover the lifetime cost of an expensive, small to medium scale storage facility that provides predominantly environmental flows (with perhaps modest growth water). By contrast, the RWSS adopted the following logic: the most favourable water storage site from an engineering perspective was also the most efficient site from a volume perspective, which in turn provided the opportunity to create additional growth water via a visible commercial model that ultimately funded the site. [Misleading. The commercial viability of the RWSS was never established, with insufficient water sales booked and no commercial investor. Indeed, there were plenty of ‘sighs of relief’ from those who had booked, only because of ‘get along’ pressure, when the scheme fell over.] With this as context, while HBRC is not revisiting the original RWSS, both because of previous Court rulings and PGF funding conditions, HBRC also understands that the many in CHB community see value in exploring what options may exist to progress the Makaroro site (as opposed to original scheme in its entirety), within a framework that provides sufficient benefit to all stakeholders. [The T&T report makes clear that a ‘baby’ dam isn’t feasible at the Makaroro site.] 
  3. Staff are tasked with providing Committee members with recommendations as to sites suitable for further assessment by way of a business case for a pre-feasibility study. Ultimately, based on current information, we are unable to make any such recommendation. The table below identifies the major constraints associated with each option that sat outside of the TTLF assessment criteria. [How about showing the table with recommended sites?] 
  4. Based on the information we have at this time staff cannot therefore make a recommendation to commit any site(s) to a business case for prefeasibility. Based on T&T’s high level costs assessments, even if they were technically viable, the smaller sites on their own are extremely unlikely to meet current cost-benefit criteria based on factors such as the cost to build, the cost to distribute water to the place of need, or both. Staff do believe that further work needs to be done on the cost-benefit analysis of sub-medium scale storage in the Ruataniwha catchment. There are other examples nationally (the proposed Waimea Dam in the Tasman district, for example) that might offer insights and information that could be relevant to the fresh water sources and use profile of the Ruataniwha catchment. [Staff can’t seem to make up its mind … smaller scale storage viable and worth investigating further, or not?] 
  5. The A7 site (Makaroro) is subject to challenges and constraints that are beyond the influence of staff and that can only be overcome by a change of policy and political will at a national level. In the meantime, staff continue to operate in the framework set down by the PGF under its funding agreements, i.e. that the project “must not involve the reinstatement of any material aspect of the Ruataniwha water storage and reticulation project.” [Shame on the HBRC’s political leadership for weaselling around on this, continuing (or pretending) to blow on the dead RWSS embers, and putting staff on the firing line instead.] 
  6. Nonetheless, in the face of climate change and demand pressures, CHB water security remains of critical importance to the district and the region and it is premature to rule out water storage as forming a part of a suite of future-proofing solutions. [So, let’s re-frame this as truly a quest for greater water security for the benefit of the greatest number of water users and for the best future uses, as opposed to the current assignment: “Find us a dam to build!”]
    Accordingly, staff do recommend the following actions.

37.1.    Temporarily suspend any further investigations or assessment of above-ground water storage sites (as shortlisted by T&T) pending the earlier of:

37.1.1.   further analysis of the costs and benefits of smaller scale storage, and

37.1.2.   the outcome of the Managed Aquifer Recharge Pilot Study.

37.2.    Urgently progress the Managed Aquifer Recharge Pilot, including comprehensive engagement with iwi, landowners and the wider community on all aspects of the proposed pilot. [Amen to that.]

37.3.    Further engage with the CHB community through the Regional Water Assessment project to develop broader non-storage policy solutions and interventions for achieving water security in that District. [Amen to that!]

Join the Conversation


  1. The answer is as you say Tom, within previous paid and scrutinised reports. The summaries in
    HBRC appendices-to-RWSS-report.pdf from May 2017 should have laid the whole matter to rest.
    Waimea water is predicted to cost about $1/cum and still rising.
    Top page 108 of HBRC report (above) estimates cost of water from smaller storage at 2-4 times more expensive than RWSS which BNZ advisory costed at 55-57 cents/cum. (to be subsidised for farmers by ratepayers by about 50%.
    No pasture irrigation can afford the RWSS price and all other options just get worse.

  2. What is wrong with these councilors? They followed one man’s agenda before and cost ratepayers at least $20million dollars. They have obviously decided that they ‘will not be deterred’ – why?????

  3. Grea article. A delightful comment in the CHB Mail, in reply to Tim Gilbertson’s comment that “several of the shareholders were Old Age Pensioners” and needed the $58000 from the CHBDC. The writer commented that it read more like a “CHB rich list”

  4. HBRC have really screwed up, by over allocating the asset to inefficient grass based dairy farms. These farms have massive surface takes which reduce water flows and concentrate nutrients.
    Now new businesses that can more efficiently use the resource find themselves shut out. We need to hold the management of HRBC to account for this monumental disaster. Unelected officials issuing massive water takes to inefficient users and then treating consents as ownership. I am fed up and many many farmers now support my view.

    1. Right about the historical over allocation, but this was ‘commanded’ by then-councillors, led by Christine Scott, over the objections of staff.

      1. So who was Christine Scott working for? Why were the huge surface takes renewed before Rex Graham and the others got into office? Why were the Papanui stream e-coli levels allowed to get as high as 570,000 per 100 mls? Max for swimming is 260. Why do the rest of us get to pay for the corporates intensive farming systems, while they get a free pass?

  5. One would hope that in the Regional Water Assesment programme the HBRC will asses the effect of the curent and traditional use of acid based fertilisers and the affect they are having in making pastures and crop plants unnaturally and excessively thirsty especially with the drying climate and appearing to accentuate the need for Irrigation .

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *