Nelson city would have been better off investing in developing the Lee Valley dam rather than the millions of dollars it is spending on the Maitai duplicate pipeline, Nelson MP Nick Smith says.
However, Nelson Mayor Aldo Miccio said the city council felt completion of the pipeline was critical, regardless of any possible Lee Valley dam project.
Dr Smith has been a vocal supporter of the dam project because it would support growth in the region's primary industries and export economy. He told the council yesterday a better option for securing a water supply for the city would be to have preferential rights to the Lee Dam.
The council recently withdrew $6.2 million funding earmarked for the proposed $42m project, partly because it assumed the development would not go ahead in the next year.
A $13m three-year project to upgrade Nelson's ageing water supply from the Maitai started last November. Stage one has been completed, stage two is out to tender, and stage three will go ahead next financial year.
Councillors Derek Shaw and Ian Barker questioned the timing of Dr Smith's statement, with Mr Barker voicing concern given the years of planning and budgeting that had gone into the pipeline project.
Dr Smith said the Maitai was identified at the time as the favoured site for the city's water source but it "added contaminants" because of its geology, which contributed to the need for the water treatment plant.
A major earthquake or storm, such as Nelson had seen, put the infrastructure at risk.
Mr Miccio said outside yesterday's meeting that water at the source of any dam in the Lee Valley may be of high quality. But because it would have to travel through the natural underground system in the Waimea Plains - the same as Richmond's current reticulated system - it would not be as high grade as that supplied to Nelson city now.
Dr Smith said he was "not spooked" by Nelson's decision to withdraw funding from the Lee Valley scheme.
He said it was important to view the scheme in a broader context of fresh water supply, economic development opportunities, and environmental benefits.
Dr Smith said growth in exports was needed to correct the decline in New Zealand's share of trade, and water was to New Zealand what minerals were to Australia.
It was worth considering that the $42m capital cost investment in the dam would help grow the region's gross domestic product by $90m annually. Dr Smith acknowledged the challenges faced by the promoters of the Lee dam scheme to get sign-on but the Government could "fill the capital investment gap".
The project has faced strong opposition from many horticultural growers and other water users on the Waimea Plains who are angry at being asked to pay 70 per cent of the cost when many of them are struggling in the economic climate.
Tasman District Council insists the dam remains a priority, but is prepared to re-think how it is funded.
Prime Minister John Key said late last year he expected the proposed Lee Valley dam to be a strong contender for government investment under a $400m irrigation fund to be set up by next year.
Dr Smith said the Lee scheme was "at the front of the queue", but government funding would not happen without buy-in from the councils and land owners. He said the region had "three or four years" before the region fell down the list of priorities.
Mr Miccio said the "critical immediate value" to Nelson ratepayers from the Lee dam would primarily be the economic development benefits to the region, but its water supply source was best secured by the Maitai pipeline project.
The council had signalled in its long term plan it was committed to working with Tasman, once an acceptable funding model had been developed.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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