Tempers flare over Hawke's Bay water security

By Victoria Clark, Victoria White

Regional councillor Debbie Hewitt was told to "take a hike" after a heated committee meeting yesterday. PHOTO/FILE
Regional councillor Debbie Hewitt was told to "take a hike" after a heated committee meeting yesterday. PHOTO/FILE

Tempers flared over the water "crisis" facing the Heretaunga Plains at a heated Hawke's Bay Regional Council committee meeting yesterday.

The Heretaunga Plains appears to be fighting a water battle on two fronts - the council has signalled a possible ban on new water allocation from the Heretaunga aquifer, after it was shown the volume being taken is at the "limit of what is environmentally acceptable".

And, many primary sector industries based on the plains are fighting against a Water Conservation Order (WCO) on two rivers which is feared would limit takes further.

Read more: Another Hawke's Bay council opposes controversial WCO
CHB Mayor: Council forgets CHB's water issues

A meeting to address interim allocation measures turned fiery - with councillor Debbie Hewitt claiming she was "appalled" by the hypocrisy of some of her colleagues, with the meeting's chair, Tom Belford, later telling her to "take a hike".

Things escalated as it was noted this situation mirrors the urgency for water security felt by those on the Ruataniwha plains, which includes Central Hawke's Bay.

The Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme was hoped to be a solution to this - however the scheme was recently dropped by council, a move driven by most of the councillors representing constituencies on the Heretaunga Plains.

Yesterday council chairman Rex Graham said all Heretaunga water users needed to work to use the resource better, to ensure economic development on the plains was not threatened.

He added that future solutions - which could include water storage - would have to be driven by those on the plains.

"If they want to build a dam then they have to go and build a dam with our advice and counsel, but not necessarily with our money.

"Our community will solve these problems and we won't go begging to Wellington or begging to everyone else to do that."

This led Central Hawke's Bay councillor Debbie Hewitt to label Mr Graham's comments "outright hypocrisy".

"What the people of Central Hawke's Bay are facing is just a fraction of what the Heretaunga catchment will be facing with what's coming their way.

"If for some reason the Heretaunga catchment should be needing government support or council support, I think we should be saying 'yes we're behind you', not 'no you can't have a bar of it'."

If water storage was needed, and the council had to invest in this, Mr Graham said he would make sure they received a return on their investment.

"That's different from Ruataniwha. Just because you come up with a cock and bull solution for water storage in CHB, don't blame me, don't call me a hypocrite. It was a rubbish scheme, and it failed because of that for all sorts of reasons."

Although water storage, or water augmentation were touted as possible future measures, in the interim the council has been recommended to take measures that could reduce the allocation of more groundwater from the aquifer, while TANK work progressed.

Labelling the situation a "crisis" akin to the 2016 Havelock North gastro outbreak, Napier councillor Neil Kirton requested council act with urgency on the matter.

Although urgency was echoed by Wairoa councillor Fenton Wilson, he said this was a "far bigger issue than this interim measure will attempt to hold back".

Whether limits were imposed by a WCO or a "plan change seven", he said the imposition felt on the Ruataniwha plains would be felt on the Heretaunga.

"I think the sooner the growers on the plains get their head around that, understand the issues, we have a far better chance of having a conversation where we can co-invest with this community to provide a solution, just as we intended to do in the Ruataniwha plain."

Yesterday the committee agreed to recommend council put interim measures in place that were likely to reduce the allocation of more groundwater from the aquifer, while TANK work progressed.

The TANK group had agreed Heretaunga water use should be capped at current levels, and would be investigating mitigating effects on lowland streams through the use of flow augmentation.

However council were told to do nothing until then would be "quite high risk", and would only add to an over-allocation problem in the future.

Mr Wilson and Ms Hewitt voted against the item. Councillor Alan Dick abstained.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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