Hawke's Bay community mourns loss of rivers thanks to discharging dam
A bottle of dirty water sits on the front porch of one Wairoa couple's home.
Months ago it was collected by farmers Jamie Seymour and James Jarden when the Waihi Dam began spilling silt into three northern Hawke's Bay rivers.
When shaken the heavy sediment takes minutes to settle, while the rest of the water remains cloudy and brown, like a dirty snow globe.
"You can't go fishing in that, can't go swimming in that, it's a disgrace really. Stock can't drink it and pumps can't pump it," Jarden said.
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"We drive to town past the dam and after the September floods we noticed the water bubbling up under the [dam's] gates."
In early December the sluice gates were forced open which allowed a steady flow of water through, he said.
Later that month residents notified Hawke's Bay Regional Council, which issued an abatement notice ordering owners Eastland Group to close the gates.
The broken gates refused to close.
"Over Christmas we would normally go kayaking, fishing and swimming but this year we can't," he said.
Many farmers relied on the rivers for irrigation but silt meant they couldn't pump from them.
"We are really fortunate that the predicted El Nino hasn't happened and we have had one of the wettest summers," Jarden said.
Despite plenty of feed many farmers were selling stock as there was no firm date when the rivers would be usable.
"Eastland Group should stand up and say, 'We have made a mistake, we have been slack and now we are going to do the right thing'," Jarden said.
He said the "right thing" was not a prosecution by the regional council, instead Eastland should donate to affected community groups.
"It will cost them a whole lot less and actually benefit the community, rather than a lawyer in Auckland making a whole lot of money."
"It'll take two or three good floods this winter and the river will be back to normal, but Eastland could repopulate the river with fish."
He said repairs were underway and in future wanted to see a maintenance plan so silt and debris would not build up behind the sluice gates.
"In future it needs to be dredged or have settling ponds."
A spokeswoman for Eastland Group said under the company's ownership the dam has been and would continue to be managed well.
"We do not believe that the sediment poses any threat to the community or to recreational users, however we understand how a change in the look of streams and rivers can cause concern," she said.
Currently the company did not have consents to authorise dredging the dam, but once it was operational they would determine future management of the dam, she said.
She said the Waiau River was often discoloured due to slips and erosion, run-off, forestry slash and other activity, including farming.
"To date we have not received any substantive compensation claims. If anyone considers they have been directly affected by the sediment, please contact Eastland who will deal with any issues raised responsibly."
She said the company was open to discussions with local farmers and businesses about any concerns they may have.