On Friday, the HB Regional Council announced two initiatives that will lead to a marked improvement in the management and quality of the Tukituki. And BayBuzz was briefed on two others, as I’ll report.
Here are the four elements of the “rescue” strategy:
1. The Central Hawke’s Bay District intends to modify its sewage treatment handling such that NO effluent is discharged into the Tukituki. Instead, the wastewater will be pumped to and dispersed on nearby land, which the Regional Council has purchased (subject to consents) and which the Council will use for carbon and forestry farming. This scheme is modeled on successful practices in Rotorua.
If all goes to plan, trees could be planted later this year, and wastewater from CHB oxidation ponds could be pumped to the site by 2010. Even if delayed a year, this is a HUGE improvement, advancing CHB to a far more stringent treatment regime at least two years sooner than presently required … and at several million dollars less cost to CHB than other options. [Full announcement here.]
2. HBRC also announced that it will set up a new telemetry and internet-based “water information service” so that complete and accurate information on water takes throughout the region will be available in real-time to all stakeholders, including the public. Presently, only 450 water takes are metered, with another 200-300 ready to meter. In all, about 3,000 takes will eventually be monitored automatically by the new system. [Full announcement here.]
What does this mean? Better — and indisputable — data on which to base allocation policies, manage irrigation use on a day-to-day basis, study water flows and ecological impacts, and enforce resource consents.
Not yet officially announced, but signaled in the Regional Council’s LTCCP, and with scoping work already underway, are two further initiatives that will improve management of the Tuki system:
3. Development of a series of wetlands on HBRC property at various key sites along the upper Tukituki. The intent of these sites (several dozen are contemplated) is to help filter nitrates and phosphorus from farm runoff and drainage systems. There is a natural limit to the amount of polluting run-off the wetlands can absorb, but they will make a significant contribution to ameliorating the problem. Ancillary benefits include further protection of flood control stop banks and increased wildlife habitat.
4. Development of a water harvesting and storage scheme servicing the Ruataniwha Plains in the upper Tukituki catchment. This initiative is still in the early feasibility study phase. But HBRC sources indicate that six potential sites covering approximately 800 hectares would be considered.
There are many steps to go on this fourth initiative, including, of course, securing buy-in from the affected property owners and sussing out the full engineering and financial scenarios.
But with recurring dryness and drought in the region — probably to be worsened by climate change — this approach seems strongly justified. Present estimates indicate that 40,000 hectares in the upper Tuki catchment could be brought into more intensive cultivation by such a scheme, with an order-of-magnitude incremental annual economic value in the $250 million range. Add to that a new capability to better manage river flows with ecological sensitivity.
“Rescue” plan … is that too strong a term?
Some — even a few Regional Councillors — would say: “Yes. Too extreme.” They would insist that the Tuki isn’t appreciably worse off than it’s ever been, and calling these steps “rescue” measures overstates the problem.
Others might say: “Yes. Too premature to safely predict rescue.” And maybe that will prove to be the case, if unforeseen technical issues arise or further financial number-crunching doesn’t look attractive. Or if even these measures are swamped by increasingly indefensible farming practices (with respect to effluent discharge and water and fertilizer use) … and Regional Councillors fail to muster the political nerve to intervene via tougher regulation.
But my view is that the Regional Council, aided by an imaginative CEO, has gotten the message … and is responding with commendable energy and creativity.
Referring to the CHB solution in particular, HBRC Chairman Alan Dick calls this an approach that reflects the Regional Council’s “new strategy of using investment funds to gain a triple-bottom-line benefit. That is, there will be a major environmental gain, an economic benefit with significant savings to CHB ratepayers, plus the Regional Council will get a return on investment through carbon and forestry farming to continue to keep its own rates down.”
Amen! At least for now, hats-off to the Regional Council and the CHB.
And without any reservation at all, high-fives to all the citizens who showed up at the Havelock North Community Centre back in March 2008, in response to the leadership of the Hawke’s Bay Environmental Water Group, and refused to accept the status quo. Look what’s been accomplished — at least attitude- and planning-wise — in fourteen months.
With any luck, Councillors McGregor and Gilbertson, before too long the Tukituki will be even better than you knew it as kids!
P.S. If you want to say something encouraging to the Regional Council, you can direct you comments here: firstname.lastname@example.org