After milestone events, what next for Bay water conservation order?

By Victoria White, Victoria White

Observing the Ngaruroro from Fernhill (as pictured) is one of the locations suggested to the WCO special tribunal. Photo / Warren Buckland
Observing the Ngaruroro from Fernhill (as pictured) is one of the locations suggested to the WCO special tribunal. Photo / Warren Buckland

After a busy fortnight, the controversial water conservation order (WCO) application is moving forward.

The WCO has become a contentious topic in the region - some feel it is needed to protect two Hawke's Bay waterways, while others say it could harm primary industries on the Heretaunga Plains.

Although the application to protect the "outstanding values" of the Ngaruroro and Clive rivers was made in 2015, things have begun to pick up recently - with a protest rally and the first special tribunal meeting both held in the past fortnight.

Read more: Another Hawke's Bay council opposes controversial WCO
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A pre-hearing conference outlined how the actual hearing on the application -
set to be held around November 14 - would go. Before this, the special tribunal has asked parties to recommend key locations to visit, which submitters could use to showcase their points for and against the application.

By jet boat, helicopter or car, suggested locations so far cover the Ngaruroro catchment, from the upper river, to Bridge Pa wineries.

Applicant Fish and Game chief executive Bryce Johnson said he was looking forward to the process moving on.

"They [anti-campaigners] probably feel a whole lot better for having vented their spleens and that's part of the process, that's fine. Now . . . we all need to focus on the actual application.

"It is notable that this rally is being led by people who want to take something from the river. Which begs the question, what are they prepared to give back to the river?"

Although the nearly 400 submissions received on the application show a close split between opponents and supporters, there has been vocal opposition to the application.

An orchestrated campaign was run against the WCO, including last Tuesday's rally which saw hundreds turn out with their placards and tractors to protest the application.

When asked what was next for the campaign, organiser and grower Jerf van Beek said they would be continuing to share their message, and educate people on why they thought the WCO application - as it stood currently - would harm the region.

Although it was sometimes a difficult message to get across, Mr van Beek said people were starting to understand - with "800 and something" signatures gathered for their petition circulated on Tuesday.

No more large-scale events were planned so far, although they were floating the idea of a drive through Hastings.

As part of the process moving forward, the applicants - New Zealand Fish and Game, the Hawke's Bay Fish and Game Council, Ngati Hori ki Kohupatiki, Whitewater New Zealand, Jet Boating New Zealand and the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society - have recommended the tribunal flies over the main stems of the rivers, the entire upper Ngaruroro area, and observes land use on the Heretaunga Plains.

Other suggestions included a half-day raft trip through the Kuripapango Gorge, and a jet boat trip through the braided reach.

Others have advocated for the tribunal to observe how water is used on the Heretaunga Plains.

A joint-memorandum from Hawke's Bay wineries and winegrowers suggested the tribunal visit vineyards in the Gimblett Gravels area to examine its soils and Bridge Pa wineries to observe their needed irrigation technology.

Heinz Watties, Apollo Apples, and Enzafruit also suggested a flight over the two rivers, as well as flying over the Heretaunga Plains to see "the scale" of horticultural and viticultural development and observe the dependence on irrigation.

The tribunal has also asked parties to consider if they want November's hearing to be split, to consider the WCO separately on the upper and lower parts of the Ngaruroro.

A large number of submitters - including many from the horticulture sector - oppose the WCO on the lower part of the Ngaruroro but support, or are neutral on, it for the upper part reaches.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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