On Tuesday the HB Regional Council made a watershed decision on improving its management of the Tukituki. Some Councillors led; others were hauled along in the wake … but they all got there!

The steps that were approved (see full recommendations here) will not solve all the problems of the Tuki. In fact, stronger measures are required, and I’ll come back to those.

But yesterday’s decision means that the Regional Council is no longer swimming against the current of public demand for a better protected Tukituki. Here are the key words for me in the decision document, which was a response to an independent review of the Council’s approach to date:

“Staff … propose an approach that will reinforce the value of scientific studies but give greater emphasis to solutions-based investigative work as well as proposing remediative initiatives that can be undertaken in parallel with the science and policy work.”

In other words, action begins now! Not five or ten years from now.

As I began, the actions that can be taken now are modest, but hopefully indicative of a fresh and permanent commitment on the part of the Council.

For example, as soon as budgets and workplans can be confirmed, steps will be initiated to protect sensitive watercourses that now feed harmful nutrients into the Tuki in its upper catchment. This will include creation of “nutrient stripping” wetlands in the upper river system. In addition, the HBRC will work with the CHB Council to reduce or remove oxidation pond discharges into the river. The implication is that HBRC funding assistance will abet this process.

These measures are laudable. But they only begin the required action.

Wetlands can only absorb so much nitrogen, and have only an indirect effect on phosphorus. Both will need to be more aggressively controlled. And this will require the Regional Council to front up to property owners’ excessive use of chemical fertilisers, which will continue to find their way into the water, wetlands or not.

Similarly with the CHB oxidation ponds. If the CHB is about to select an acceptable, alternative means of treating wastewater from Waipukarau and Waipawa, and if HBRC is ready to assist with funding, there’s no reason that CHB cannot get on with the job and reduce its discharges into the Tuki well before the currently stipulated 2014 deadline.

Note, I said “acceptable” alternative treatment. Rumour is that CHB and HBRC are leaning toward disposing of treated effluent (i.e., sludge) on the land. In the US, this approach is heavily regulated, and often banned outright, when the “nasties” (which could include anything from heavy metals to pharmaceuticals, not “just” poop) turn out to be too health threatening.

And beyond these measures, other issues like lowering minimum water flows, taking the empirical guesswork out of future water allocations, and educating consumers to use (and dispose of) more environmentally-friendly products, as Liz Remmerswaal proposed — must be dealt with.

So, can — and should — the Regional Council do more than it committed to yesterday? Absolutely. BayBuzz and, I’m sure, the Hawke’s Bay Environmental Water Group won’t be moving on to other issues or declaring victory on behalf of the Tukituki anytime soon.

BayBuzz first decried the state of the Tuki in a post of 5 September, 2007, titled Would you swim in the Tukituki? We merely echoed complaints others had long been making. A week later, HBRC staff responded with a cover-Council’s-butt “fact sheet” assuring us all was well. It was election time, after all. Hopefully those days are gone, and Act I in this story is over.

Yes, an important change of attitude and direction has occurred at the Regional Council, and for that — their Act II — Councillors and staff deserve our applause.

Still, the audience remains restive … the final curtain call is a long way off.

Tom Belford

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2 Comments

  1. It is indeed a move in the right direction, even if it is but one waterway .. and then there is the matter of the air we breathe.

  2. The proof of the pudding will be…………… I recently was asked to be the guest speaker at the launch of the Sustainable Tourism Advisers in Regions (STAR) programme here in Hawke's Bay. At one point in my address I briefly touched on the state of the Tukituki and how it was unacceptable to the community and visitors. Predicatbly afterwards one of the regional councillors approached me. The only subject they wanted to discuss was the Tuki and a spirited defence of the status quo was all that I got. Old habits…………

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