National, Labour rivals on common ground opposite Greens over Waimea dam plan
National and Labour have come out of their respective blue and red corners to back the proposed Waimea dam in the face of Green criticism.
Long-time Nelson MP Nick Smith, of National, said the dam was the "only practical prospect of improving minimum flows and water quality in the [Waimea] river without a devastating cut in the horticultural industry on which Nelson depends".
His Labour Party rival in Nelson, Rachel Boyack, said the project stacked up economically and environmentally, and Labour in government would honour any existing Crown commitment to the scheme.
The pair, whose parties are traditional foes, were responding to comments from Green Party candidates who opposed the proposed $82.5 million dam. The project, in the Lee Valley, involves potential joint-venture partners Tasman District Council and Waimea Irrigators Ltd. The funding model for the project includes contributions from Nelson City Council and the Government.
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Green Party Nelson candidate Matt Lawrey said if the dam went ahead "it will lead to more unsustainable farming, which will lead to more nitrate leaching, which will lead to greater nitrate ingress into the aquifer which is where drinking water comes from". The Greens' West Coast-Tasman candidate, Kate Fulton, said she was concerned the purpose of the dam "is on increasing sprawling urban development across valuable greenfield land" and, at the same time, increasing the intensification of farming on the remaining rural land.
Meanwhile, the Green Party spokeswoman for water, Catherine Delahunty, said the proposed dam was "economically problematic" and there was no consensus for it across the region.
Smith said he was disappointed but not surprised by the Green Party's opposition.
"The Greens' criticism is ill-informed, shows they haven't done any homework on the specifics of the proposal and have just reverted to their anti-agriculture, anti-infrastructure rhetoric," Smith said. "The claim by Mr Lawrey that the dam will increase nitrates in the catchment is just plain wrong. He seems ignorant of the fact that irrigated apples produce fewer nitrates than the existing dryland farming. He also overlooks that the dam will enable substantial increases in minimum flows and the potential for fresh flows in summer to eliminate the algae that currently causes problems."
Smith said he was "dumbfounded" by Fulton's comments about residential development.
"New homes need water whether they are apartments or greenfield 800 square metre sections," Smith said. "We must ensure more houses are built if we are to avoid unaffordable house prices and rents."
Boyack said any future irrigation schemes would have to "stand up on their own without taxpayer subsidies" under a Labour government but existing commitments for Government support would be honoured, including the Waimea dam.
Water flows in the Waimea River would be better with the dam, the region needed an assurance around urban water supply "and the dam will supply that". It was also important to consider projects such as the dam "in the context of people being employed", Boyack said.
"What it comes down to is that the project stacks up economically and environmentally," she said. "We have to take a region-wide view to ensure we have jobs in the rural part of the district and urban part of the district."
However, the allocation of costs for the dam between TDC, NCC and irrigators would have to be fair, Boyack added.
Labour and the Greens in 2016 signed a memorandum of understanding, intending to work together to change the Government.
"Obviously, we are distinct parties," Boyack said when it was pointed out her stance was different to the Greens'.
Smith hit back at suggestions by Lawrey of alternative measures to the dam, including on-farm storage, urban rainwater collection systems and grey water recycling.
"The alternative suggestions of household grey water storage tanks show how disconnected the Greens are from the practical costs," Smith said. "Grey water storage tanks cost $250 per cubic metre as compared to the cost of the Waimea Community Dam of $5 per cubic metre."
Green Party opposition to the dam was a "huge risk for Nelson's horticultural interests".
"It will not just hit orchards but negatively impact on the whole regional economy," Smith said.