With a mighty front-page splash in Hawke’s Bay Today this week, echoed by a stirring Talking Point in the same edition, the Tukituki Water Security Project was launched.
According to its announcement letter, the Project is a “rescoping of the needs of the catchment and a genuine assessment of how the purpose can feasibly be met using a range of measures, including the potential for water storage. There are no predetermined outcomes and this is not a re-run of previous water projects.”
Later the letter assures us: “We plan to take on board the lessons learned from previous attempts to address water security in the region.”
The leader of this initiative is CHB farmer Mike Petersen, the highly esteemed former agriculture trade ambassador for New Zealand. Mike has graced the pages of BayBuzz magazine as a superb articulator of what it will take for NZ food producers to survive in the overseas marketplace – namely, high value products with green credibility.
So, I take seriously any project that Mike gets behind, and I told him I would keep an open mind on this one.
That said, I’m not sure my sense of the ‘lessons’ to be learned from the Ruataniwha Dam fiasco are the same as Mike’s group, which is essentially a collection of folks with an economic interest in water.
That’s one lesson not learned. Where are the environmental reps? Where are the regen ag farmers who appear to be already more drought resilient?
I suspect the group feels they have the environmental base covered by including on their team a Maori leader, Liz Graham, chair of the Heretaunga Tamatea Settlement Trust.
But that doesn’t quite cut it. Despite a lot of public perception that Maori unfailingly champion the environment above all else, what I’ve observed in reality (especially in my regional councillor days) is that it doesn’t take much waving of the jobs/economic benefit flag to surface a different set of priorities.
So yes, involving Tamatea (plus some sprinkling of Te Reo Māori in the media material) might provide some political cover in seeking support from a Labour Government (if that need arises), plus facilitate access to $100m in Trust money.
But if the group genuinely wants an environmental perspective, try adding a Forest and Bird rep. And try adding a regen ag farmer.
Then there’s the actual workplan of the Steering Group. They’ve hired an investment banking firm – Lewis Tucker – as their lead adviser. If ever there were a red flag! Their brief: “…undertake a full review … of the environmental footprint, water demand, the project structure, total project costs, capital structure and suitability of the consents.”
Of course, there’s nothing to say a financier can’t understand environmental values and footprints … and maybe even be green at heart.
So, I’ll hold my fire on that one. And strive mightily to stave off my suspicion that these are simply guys looking for dams to finance.
Surely you wouldn’t pay them merely to replicate work already done by Tonkin & Taylor on alternative storage options or the meticulous work nearly completed by HBRC’s Regional Water Demand Assessment.
What are the lessons I learned from the Ruataniwha episode?
- ‘Water security’ and ‘water storage’ are two different things. The former can be advanced in ways that don’t necessarily require investment bankers, but that do involve changing land uses and land management practices.
- Any inquiry with the goals this project purports to have should lead with these questions:
- How is the water being used now – by whom, for what?
- What is the environmental requirement for water in the catchment?
- What is the municipal need for water given projected population growth?
- What is the optimal commercial use of water in CHB given future climate change and other relevant factors?
Hopefully this project is not merely an exercise to ‘justify’ a water ‘solution’ that grandfathers in current irrigators in CHB – specifically the 5-6 dairying operations that currently swallow most of the allocated water.
3. Involve the entire community in the so-called “bottom up” exercise from the outset, not just commercial users.
If the project unfolds in a manner that reflects these lessons learned, then it might yield proposals deserving of widespread community support. It won’t take long to see which way the wind blows.