Sympathy for CHB water users, but need for action

By Victoria White

The new flow regime sets a standard for the water level of the Tukituki River (PICTURED) below which point irrigation bans are imposed. PHOTO/FILE
The new flow regime sets a standard for the water level of the Tukituki River (PICTURED) below which point irrigation bans are imposed. PHOTO/FILE

In a rare move, a Hawke's Bay Regional Council committee was yesterday asked to reconsider a request around the deadline for new water restrictions, feared to leave Central Hawke's Bay businesses "struggling to survive".

This year new minimum-flow and allocation limits under the council's Tukituki catchment-focused plan change - Plan Change Six (PC6) - come in. To prepare many rural water users signed up for the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme (RWSS).

After this was dealt a blow last year, the rural community implored the council for more time, fearing the new restrictions would have a "severe" impact on the agriculture-driven district.

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A motion on this was lost by one vote in November, with an updated paper unusually brought back before the regional planning committee yesterday.

Council Strategic Development group manager Tom Skerman told the meeting the CHB community understood the reality of PC6, but wanted the committee to consider the limited amount of time it felt it had to mitigate the impact.

Council staff were considering a request from a CHB water users group about an urgent analysis of possible solutions. If certain criteria were met and work undertaken, it was possible interim measures could be put in place to offset the impact of the new flows, he said.

However he noted trying to extend the deadline was "relatively challenging" in November, but was "significantly" more so now as the council wanted a plan change in place and progressed before irrigation season began.

Some committee members sympathised with the CHB community and their reliance on the council-led RWSS project, with chairman Rex Graham urging "we've got to do everything we can to help this community get through this, and keep their economy vibrant".

Others felt time was of the essence for the environment and action needed to be taken with PC6. The community would soon find "necessity is the mother of invention", Toro Waaka said.

Speaking on behalf of CHB's surface water group, Alastair Haliburton told the committee it had taken a while for their community to realise the importance of preparing for the new future - but it was understood now.

"We are quite clear that communal planning is needed ... but there is no post-Ruataniwha communal plan because we don't have the expertise."

The group were asking for the council's financial support as they worked to develop a communal solution - rather than every affected water user "DIY-ing" their own, this would be more cost effective, and better for the environment.

The meeting turned fiery when some councillors expressed concern they were being asked to "re-litigate a decision previously made by this committee".

In the end the committee unanimously agreed to recommend a substantive motion that the committee received the report, and supported the approach taken by the CHB surface water group to find solutions to access water within the PC6 framework.

This meant the deadline remained, but that council would work to encourage and help users make their businesses work within PC6.

This paper was initially to go before council for reconsideration in December.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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