This week I sat through a video briefing hosted by the Regional Council regarding so-called Tranche 2 (T2) water consents sought by eight CHB irrigators.
The T2 applicants made their collective pitch to what appeared to be an unpersuaded virtual audience of Māori and environmentalists.
The eight T2 applicants are seeking 15 million cubes of Ruataniwha aquifer water ‘discovered’ back in 2015 by the Commissioners who made the decisions about Tukituki management and the proposed dam back then. Even then the Regional Council objected, believing the aquifer was at the razor’s edge of depleting. And now, seven years later, it is even more evident that we need to be saving water in that aquifer, not allocating/depleting more of it.
And yet the T2 applicants continue to hope for a Water Fairy who will have a spare 15 million cubes to sprinkle upon them.
The T2 applicants face a huge burden to prove that:
- More intensive farming (the economic driver of these applications) will not exacerbate already excessive nutrient runoff – forbidden by existing rules. They were at great pains to note that only three of the applications involved more dairying; however, so far, the ‘alternative’ uses of the water are only vaguely described, with the ‘assurance’ that they would be less environmentally harmful and use water more efficiently. Better PR might suggest that the non-dairy applicants would throw their dairy compatriots under the bus at the drop of a hat!
- Drawing down another 15 million cubes would not adversely affect current water users, including the households dependent upon their generally shallower bores (less than 50 metres). Current extractions already seem have that effect … a contentious issue for several years now in CHB.
- ‘Giving back’ 5 million cubes of the extracted water by restoring it to surface streams will mitigate whatever flow-depleting effect the extractions will have. This one is a hydrology modeler’s dream assignment – the T2 modelers (using what appears to be antiquated data) insist they will benefit the streams and wetlands (some would say this is ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’). In any event, their projected percentage increases in low flows seem marginal, within statistical margins of error.
This all comes to a head when the consents go before an independent hearings panel, set to begin its work on July 4.
But a key date comes 15 days earlier, when the Regional Council presents its own expert findings and recommendations in the form of its Section 42 analysis of the applications.
Unless the Water Fairy has visited HBRC headquarters, it’s hard to imagine how 15 million cubes of water the staff believed unavailable in 2015, now magically is. Even in the face of more stringent environmental standards, which start with the now-legislated requirement that avoiding environmental harm trumps facilitating economic growth.