Martin Williams: Hawke's Bay needs water storage

By Martin Williams

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We have one city with a very recent water crisis, while the other recovers from a more enduring earlier one, says Martin Williams.
We have one city with a very recent water crisis, while the other recovers from a more enduring earlier one, says Martin Williams.

Charles Dickens would not have foreseen it in conferring the title to his famous book, but Hawke's Bay really is a "Tale of two Cities" at present.

It is, as we lead into Christmas, the "best of times" and the "worst of times". It is the "age of wisdom", it is the "age of foolishness".

We have one city with a very recent water crisis, while the other recovers from a more enduring earlier one.

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Wrapped around this situation is the regional council, with overall responsibility for water management not just for these two cities, but two complete rural districts, and a number of river catchments, as well.

It is in that setting that the point of this article resides.

It is the best of times because of the energy and commitment to tackling the "wicked" problems facing the region in such creative and innovative ways.

Witness Paul Bailey's admirable summary of the many challenges facing the council this term, and its enthusiasm for confronting them (Talking Point, November 9, 2017).

Witness the council's excitement over recently announced Central Government support for regional development, enabling a long-desired extensive planting programme that will not only address land erosion, but have significant benefits for water quality and indeed the marine environment and habitats of Hawke Bay (Hawke's Bay Today, December 4).

It is the worst of times because our regional economy so critically depends on that most vital of resources; water, and specifically the overallocated groundwater of the Heretaunga Plains aquifer system.

Perhaps the most startling recent conclusion of the TANK process science reveal, is just how far reaching the connection between groundwater takes and surface flows within the Ngaruroro River extends.

While many realise that the very essence of what defines Hastings District as the best place on earth to grow food is at stake, perhaps less well understood is that Napier City's municipal water supply is also dependent on secure access to that overallocated resource. A tale of two cities indeed.

It is the worst of times because one of the rural districts of the region that is going to have to meet minimum flows set to protect the Tukituki River was depending on the relief provided by the other part of the integrated solution for that catchment, the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme.

That this project now seems "dead in the water", at least so far as regional council investment is concerned, is a matter of considerable concern within the Central Hawke's Bay community. As Paul Bailey now puts it (elected on "Can the Dam") "How are we going to deal with Plan Change 6 without the dam?"

In my view, there cannot be a reality for Hawke's Bay that does not involve water storage. It is going to have to happen in the Tukituki River catchment to meet minimum flows set for habitat protection.

No amount of "dryland" farming practice will fully avoid that. It is certainly going to have to happen in the Ngaruroro River catchment, given how fully allocated the river and "hydraulically connected" groundwater system seems to be, and with significantly higher minimum river flows signalled as necessary to protect river habitat there as well.

Some of those that opposed the dam in the Tukituki, are unashamedly advocates for water storage in the Ngaruroro. A "tale of two rivers" perhaps.

What I think all ratepayers within the region, from whichever city or "county" they come from should expect and even demand, is a fair and equitable approach by the regional council to this issue, including by the regional planning committee that apparently vetoed relief under Change 6.

It is not okay to throw the Central Hawke's Bay farmers "under the bus", any more than it would be to leave the horticultural industry on the Heretaunga Plains at risk of devastating water take ban periods to meet new flow requirements for the Ngaruroro.

As much as everyone remaining involved in the TANK process would hope that they can arrive at a consensus driven solution to this "wicked" issue facing the Ngaruroro catchment and the broader Heretaunga Plains, so should the region expect its council to now show leadership in ensuring a resilient and sustainable future for Central Hawke's Bay.

May I conclude by making it clear that in my view the dam for the Tukituki did not, as many suggest (including Paul Bailey in his Talking Point piece), fail to get off the ground because land access had not been secured. This was granted in September 2015 by the Minister of Conservation, after an extensive public hearing and expert review process.

However, the Supreme Court majority reasoned that the minister did not have the broad general power set in the Conservation Act to reclassify Conservation Park land, so it could be exchanged.

Four out of the nine Judges that looked at that issue over three Court hearings disagreed. The minority in the Supreme Court observed that the statute itself did not contain any "hint" of the limitation assumed by the majority. The dam ultimately failed because of a narrowly won but determined litigation strategy, run by one of the current applicants to the WCO for the Ngaruroro (Forest and Bird). The 'hero' becomes a 'villain'. A tale of two rivers indeed.

Martin Williams is a barrister specialising in local government and resource management law, based in Napier.
Views expressed here are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's. Email:

- Hawkes Bay Today

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