Way back in March, BayBuzz quoted HB Regional Councillor Ewan McGregor’s observation, written in a Guest Buzzmaker column:

“The gap in appreciation of the state of the Tukituki river between those responsible for its health and those who are dissatisfied with it is too wide to accept … Let’s build a bridge to cross the Tukituki divide.”

And we commented:

“An accurate assessment … and an admirable aspiration.

Unfortunately, not a lot of bridge-building is likely in the near future if, as rumoured, HBRC hearings officers announce in coming days that they have rejected a HBRC staff recommendation that a series of proposed consents to take water from the Tukituki and Waipawa rivers be denied.

To its credit, the HBRC staff has since last September advocated that no additional groundwater takes be allowed from the Ruataniwha Basin, citing the likely adverse impact on the Tukituki and Waipawa rivers, which staff terms “fully allocated with no new water available for future users.” (12 Sep 2007 staff report).

Unfortunately, the HBRC Councillors (and now hearings officers?) have lacked the spine to back-up the staff’s “shut off the spigot” position. And so the issue will be”studied” a few years. Meantime, consents for surface water takes from the Tuki and Waipawa will be rolled-over and perhaps even new ones granted.

How utterly mindless could this be? Someone say it ain’t so!”

Unfortunately, it is so.

Instead of having the guts to stand up to a handful of dairy farmers, a hearings committee consisting of Regional Council deputy chair Christine Scott and former councillors Alec Olsen and Adrienne Williams recently awarded rights to draw 215,000 cubic meters of water per week from these rivers for five years. What RMA were they reading?!

Utterly mindless.

On the one hand, the Regional Council runs a high profile speakers’ series designed to get the community thinking about a sustainable future.

On the other hand, it squanders a resource absolutely essential to any future for HB. The decision will be appealed to the Environment Court, once again placing a burden on environmentalists to protect the Bay’s natural resources … a responsibility the Council itself should have shouldered.

Given this context, one begins to wonder whether the Speakers’ series is nothing more than PR.

On August 11, 7pm, at the Havelock North Community Centre, HB Sustaining Trust will host one of NZ’s foremost water quality experts, Dr. Mike Joy of Massey University, who will explain just how bad-off our rivers are. Most of his audience will probably consist of the already-aware and alarmed.

HB Regional Councillors should attend this meeting, where they might learn something. Then they should invite Dr. Joy to address one of their breakfast gatherings, where a wider cross-section of HB opinion leaders can hear his sobering message.

Maybe HBRC will surprise us and assist Central Hawke’s Bay with an accelerated wastewater treatment upgrade. But that of course won’t deal with excessive withdrawals from the Tuki. Water quality and use must both be addressed. Until they are, the Tukituki hasn’t got a chance … and the gap Councillor McGregor warns of will only get wider.

Tom

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