A hearing on the controversial Ruataniwha dam has ended two months after it began, with the proponents' lawyer dismissing predictions of "environmental catastrophe".
The hearing before a board of inquiry began in Hastings on November 18 and ran for 29 days before ending in Waipawa yesterday.
The five-strong board has heard two matters: resource consent applications by Hawke's Bay Regional Council's investment arm to dam the Makaroro River and build an irrigation scheme, and a council plan change addressing water quality in the Tukituki River catchment.
Over the past two months dozens of submitters have had their say on the proposed $265 million scheme and the associated "Plan Change 6".
The applicants' lawyer, Trevor Robinson, called into question the evidence of all major objectors. A key point of contention throughout was the council's proposed "single nutrient" approach, which would see limits imposed on nitrogen but not phosphorus.
Some submitters claimed this would be a "potential disaster" and an "environmental catastrophe".
Opponents wanted lower nitrogen limits but Mr Robinson said these were unrealistic and there was no evidence showing how lower limits would improve water quality.
He rejected claims that the effects of more nitrogen entering groundwater and surface water would be irreversible and said "there is no expert evidence that nutrient levels in the Tukituki River could not ever be reduced if a substantial problem were found to arise".
Measures including monitoring, predictive modelling and adaptive management would ensure any issues were detected and acted on as early as possible. "The concern that by the time surface water concentrations reach a trigger level, it will take years to reverse, is unfounded."
He said it was ironic that Forest & Bird could claim the Tukituki catchment was "outstanding" when an integral part of other submitters' cases was that the river system was "degraded".
The board would write a draft report including a draft decision. Comments would be invited and a final decision must be made by April 10.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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