New water battle looming in Hawke's Bay in wake of the failed Ruataniwha Dam plan

Hawke's Bay orchardists Jerf Van Beek and Brian McClay put up signs ahead of rally opposing an application for a Water ...
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Hawke's Bay orchardists Jerf Van Beek and Brian McClay put up signs ahead of rally opposing an application for a Water Conservation Order on the Ngaruroro River.

In the wake of the failed Ruataniwha Dam proposal a new dispute over water in Hawke's Bay is erupting, with conservationists and recreational boaties lining up against orchardists and irrigators in the Ngaruroro River catchment.

Opponents to an application for a Water Conservation Order on the catchment are organising a protest rally featuring tractors and heavy machinery on September 19 - just days after a government-appointed Special Tribunal is in Napier for a pre-hearing conference. 

The Ngaruroro is the region's second largest river, with a catchment covering about 2000square kilometres. It has sources in the Kaimanawa, Kaweka and northern Ruahine Ranges and flows in south-easterly direction before entering the Pacific Ocean between Napier and Hastings.

The Ngaruroro River catchment, Hawke's Bay.
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The Ngaruroro River catchment, Hawke's Bay.

In December 2015 five parties applied for a water conservation order for the Ngaruroro and the smaller Clive rivers; Fish and Game, Forest and Bird, Ngāti Hori ki Kohupatiki, Whitewater New Zealand and Jet Boating New Zealand. 

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The lower Ngaruroro River, between Napier and Hastings.
SIMON HENDERY/STUFF

The lower Ngaruroro River, between Napier and Hastings.

They say the rivers have outstanding values and they want protection of the entire length of both rivers and their tributaries and the groundwater that is hydraulically connected to the Lower Ngaruroro River.

The 7km long Clive River is included because it is the old mouth of the Ngaruroro.

There are about 85 water take consents in the lower Ngaruroro catchment, with a report in 2010 finding it was over-allocated. Most of the water is used on pastoral and orchard land.

Federated Farmers president Katie Milne and other farming leaders met on the Ngaruroro River last month and pledged to ...
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Federated Farmers president Katie Milne and other farming leaders met on the Ngaruroro River last month and pledged to make all New Zealand rivers swimmable.

The applicants said the Upper and Lower Ngaruroro and the Clive River had outstanding amenity values and should be protected.

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"The Ngaruroro catchment provides outstanding native fish habitat on the basis of its physical characteristics, high water quality, and the fact it supports a significant diversity of species, many of which are classified as threatened," their application stated. 

They said the order seeks to preserve the Upper Ngaruroro Waters in their near natural state and "existing land uses and levels of land use can continue, but this application (if successful) would place restrictions on any additional water takes or discharges (point or non-point), and dams".

On the Lower Ngaruroro the order, if successful, would introduce water quality limits, a restriction on physical modification of the braided reach, prevent damming, retain the current flow allocation regime for existing users, but place restrictions on new activities. 

The applicants say the lower river has good water quality despite a relatively high level of land use and intensification. They say the water quality limits they propose would allow existing discharges and land use to continue, unless the water quality continues to degrade, as it is presently.

But the orchardists aren't buying that and are gearing up to fight the application.

Orchardist Jerf Van Beek, who is also Horticulture NZ's seasonal labour coordinator, said the order would have a huge impact on urban and rural communities and the region was able to look after the river through the TANK process, which was a group of 35 individuals from various sectors including environmental and tangata whenua that works with the Hawke's Bay Regional Council to review land and water management in the napier and Hastings areas. 

"The WCO will be detrimental to our economy and hundreds of jobs will be lost. We think we can achieve the environmental balance with the processes we have in place," Van Beek said.

Regional council chairman Rex Graham, also an orchardist, said he was "disappointed that outsiders have interfered" with the TANK process, which had been underway for four years.

"We have been working to achieve a balance between farming and the environment. But the WCO will decimate horticulture on the Heretaunga Plains. If the WCO goes ahead it will be the death of business in the region.  Let's not under estimate this - we will be fighting it to the end," Graham said.

He said under the order there would be an average of 27 irrigation ban days and in a dry year there could be up to 90 irrigation ban days.

"That lack of confidence in water being available when needed will see growers deciding not to plant crops, and processors being unable to secure supply to keep factories running," he said.

The orchardists say the rally on the 19th would involve tractors and heavy machinery and would travel from Hastings to Clive.

Submissions on the application closed on the 24th of August.

A pre-hearing conference is being held in Napier next Friday. It will be held by the Special Tribunal formed to hear the application. Its members are Richard Fowler, QC (Chair), Alec Neill, Dr Ngaire Phillips, Dr Roger Maaka and John McCliskie.

 

 - Stuff

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