Bay Buzz has invited me to comment on the issue of water. Like any reasonable person I am concerned about the state of the region’s vital water resource. I am also concerned that many Hawkes Bay people have lost confidence in the quality of our water, especially in respect to the Tukituki, which I will specifically comment on later.

Water, along with oil, are the two liquid resources upon which modern life depends and which are becoming increasingly scarce globally. But there’s a major difference. Oil can only be used once, but there are substitutes (although we have yet to find a practical and affordable one). The planet’s water however is finite. We don’t destroy it with its use; we merely borrow it. We may of course degrade it, but nature has a way of rehabilitation through the evaporation/precipitation cycle. Unlike oil though, there is no substitute!

Our region’s water availability is entirely determined by the precipitation within our catchment, but has to be shared among a growing population. Unsurprisingly it is an issue of growing public interest and contention.

Water falls into three general categories.

Ground water. Hawkes Bay is richly endowed with ground water. This resource is largely but not entirely represented by the aquifer complexes beneath the Heretaunga and Ruataniwha Plains. This water resource contributes to our domestic needs and very substantially to the economic well-being of Hawkes Bay. These aquifers, and our gravely rivers, are the legacy of great floods that have shifted, and shift, the hard greywacke material from the western ranges to the aggrading plains. The downside is the shingle beaches in Hawke Bay.

But groundwater is invisible and although our knowledge of it has developed considerably over time we still have much to learn, especially the relationship with surface water – its contribution to and detraction from such.

Entrapped Surface water (That is lakes and wetlands). In recent years we have developed a much greater appreciation of our lakes and wetlands, and the Regional Council, private landowners and other interests have spent considerable amounts of money rehabilitating, protecting and to some degree actually creating them. (The last mentioned, I believe, should be given greater promotion. With modern earthmoving equipment we have a great potential to add to our wetland resource.)

Good examples of wetland restoration are Peka Peka swamp, and Lake Tutira, from which livestock (and topdressing) has been largely removed from the catchment, although currently the water doesn’t appear in very good shape. The Regional Council also makes available seeding funds to private landowners to develop wetlands. All this costs money, but arguably it is public money well spent.

Flowing Water (Rivers and streams). Hawkes Bay has a relatively low rainfall, but the ranges on the western margin provide the primary summer flow of our numerous rivers extending from the Ruakituri in the north (surely our most picturesque) to the coastal Porangahau in the south.

But it is the three (plus the Waipawa) which cross the Plains that are under the greatest pressure from irrigation and in the case of the Tukituki, as a conduit for domestic wastewater.

With the pressures on farming it is inevitable that demand for irrigation is increasing to ensure greater and more reliable levels of production. This applies very much to Hawkes Bay, perhaps to a greater extent than any other North Island region. (For this reason the HBRC should visit Environment Canterbury where they are at the apex of irrigation water demand and the complex issue of its allocation, leading to developments in irrigation technology and practice, and water harvesting. Also ECAN is doing good work in the ecological enhancement of the drains in urban Christchurch.)

The challenge is to maximise irrigation opportunity for the economic benefit of Hawkes Bay, without overly disadvantaging other water interests. This is a challenging task indeed for the HBRC. In this context I believe that nationally we must address the issue of costing water. Is the use of 1000 litres of water to gain one of milk an unduly extravagant use of this increasingly scarce – and public – resource?

The Tukituki. The Tukituki is currently the flashpoint of the Hawkes Bay water debate. It also is a river that I am very familiar with, having played around, swum in, and otherwise observed since 1952. I love this river, and have, I think, assisted it in a very modest way by planting thousands of trees in its catchment. I do not share the severe criticisms that are currently abroad concerning this precious waterway, which is not to say that it can not be, and need not be improved.

Recently correspondents in the CHB Mail have called it an “open sewer” and “one of the most polluted rivers in the world”. This is not atypical of much of the rhetoric directed at this river. It’s completely over the top and frankly I am surprised that people who believe in their cause feel the need to use it.

A couple of weeks ago I took a sample of water from the river at Tamumu together with a like bottle from the Hastings municipal supply (the best in the country), and challenged people to visually determine the difference. They could not. Visually (again note the emphasis) I consider the river has come through a dry summer in reasonable shape and doesn’t deserve the indignity of being described as ‘an open sewer’.

(Bear in mind that from the 1940s through to the early 1970s community sewage from the two CHB towns had been emptied into the river with no treatment whatsoever. Today standards required of the CHBDC are becoming more demanding. By all means let’s work to improve the wastewater standards, but also acknowledge historic improvements.)

Nevertheless, the gap in appreciation of the state of the river between those responsible for its health and those who are dissatisfied with it is too wide to accept, and it appears to me that the adversarial tenor of the debate was not soothed by the recent 200-strong public meeting held at Havelock North.

For that reason I have indicated to my fellow councillors that the council establish a working party, or some such forum, to work through the issue of the river’s health. Let’s build a bridge to cross the Tukituki divide.

Working for the Future. Recently I spent 10 days in central Victoria working in the field with an officer (and close friend) of Landcare Australia. We travelled a total of 2500 kilometres and not once did I see running water. It made me appreciate the degree to which this country, and this region, is so generously endowed. And yes, it made me appreciate the Tukituki. We owe it to future generations to safeguard our water.

In December I wrote a column in Hawkes Bay Today suggesting a forum whereby all water users can get together and work through the issues of Hawkes Bay’s water; understand each others interest; promote their own; consider how we can improve its quality and use it more efficiently. This met with a favourable response, including from BayBuzz, and I intend to further explore this idea, with the intention of facilitating it in early winter when seasonal pressures lessen on land users.

Any support or comments would be much appreciated. I can be contacted by email: ewan-mac@xtra.co.nz.

Ewan McGregor

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  1. Can I suggest that the adversarial tenor of the debate between those who are responsible for the health of the Tukituki River and those who are dissatisfied with it was not soothed by the recent 200 strong public meeting in Havelock North because of the way this meeting was mishandled by the HBRC. The attendees were told from the outset that members of the HBRC staff were going to talk about their areas of expertise and there was to be no discussion or debate and only 'questions of clarification' were to be asked.

    My understanding is the HBRC are public servants and as such the people attending that meeting were their employers. What a way to talk to your employer! Is this democracy at work in NZ?

    The different employees talked ( and talked and talked) and any attempt at debate was firmly quashed.

    At 10.30 I was so tired I went home. Congratulations to those who stayed on.

    I feel that the HBRC strategy was to keep talking until we all got tired and went home.

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