The Regional Council’s tentative plan for water harvesting in Central Hawke’s Bay has encountered a surprising setback of sorts as the full-scale feasibility study on the project gets underway.
After more rigorous on-site geophysical examination of the six sites initially targeted for dams in the scheme, five have been found unsuitable. This turn of events was reported to the Water Storage Stakeholder Group at its meeting last Tuesday. Four are unsuitable because of fault lines or other land instability. Another dam site would need to be shifted for the same reasons, altering the area to be flooded, the impact of which requires further investigation.
The project team has identified other potential sites from the possible fourteen sites that are candidates for the scheme. One might logically think that the optimal sites were the first six selected; however HBRC’s project leader Bruce Corbett said that the substitute sites simply had different pluses and minuses that would now need more careful on-the-ground evaluation.
Meantime, extensive research work proceeds in parallel on water quantity and quality impacts of the scheme, minimum flows, existing land use and potential effects of intensification, cultural impacts and other considerations. Similarly, in-depth analysis of the economic case for the scheme is underway.
While it is understandable why the Regional Council would want to advance (i.e., spend money on) the many prongs of the feasibility study simultaneously, it does seem to a mere layperson that reassurance — based upon the best possible on-site engineering assessments — that sufficient dams and consequent storage capacity can indeed be safely built is far and away THE question that supersedes all others!
Has the Regional Council got the cart before the horse?
If the alternative dam sites fail closer scrutiny, other dominoes fall. Every presentation made lately on the Regional Council’s “proposed” holding company shows “WaterCo” (the business vehicle for the water harvesting scheme) as a primary example of why the holding company is needed.
Further, as Venture Hawke’s Bay chair Neil Kirton argues here in BayBuzz, the future strategic focus for VHB’s regional economic development work will be — you guessed it — confirming and reaping the benefits of water harvesting.
For the Regional Council’s sake, the alternative dam sites had better be a damn sight better than the initial discards!