Farmer interest gives Ruataniwha water storage scheme a boost

An artist's impression of the Ruataniwha dam, proposed for Central Hawke's Bay.
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An artist's impression of the Ruataniwha dam, proposed for Central Hawke's Bay.

A major irrigation scheme proposed for Central Hawke's Bay looks set to proceed after the company promoting it said there was sufficient farmer commitment to make the project viable.

The Ruataniwha water storage scheme would involve creating a 7-kilometre-long dam in the foothills of the Ruahine range, northwest of Waipukurau, and a pipe network capable of irrigating about 27,000 hectares of farmland.

The scheme is being promoted by Hawke's Bay Regional Investment Company (HBRIC), the commercial arm of Hawke's Bay Regional Council, and is relying on an $80 million investment from the council.

HBRIC said on Wednesday it had signed contracts with enough potential water users to ensure the project produced positive cashflows from the outset – one of several conditions the scheme has to meet before the council invests.

The scheme has attracted controversy ever since it was first floated several years ago, including opposition from some Hawke's Bay regional councillors. Critics have argued that it would be detrimental to the environment because it would enable more intensive farming in Central Hawke's Bay.

But the council has maintained it will have a positive environmental and economic impact on the region, with millions of litres of water from the scheme use to augment river flows on the drought-prone Ruataniwha Plains.

The scheme would take three years to complete and would have the capacity to deliver about 105 billion litres of water a year.

HBRIC said on Wednesday it had so far signed 196 contracts with farmers to take about 42.8 billion litres annually and the company's chief executive, Andrew Newman, said reaching 50 billion litres by June was a "realistic target".

The scheme is expected to cost about $330m, with funding coming from the council, a loan from a central government irrigation funding scheme, other lenders and an as-yet unnamed corporate investor currently undertaking final due diligence.

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 - Stuff

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