Ruataniwha consents approved in draft decision, ‘single nutrient’ approach rejected
The Tukituki Catchment Proposal Board of Inquiry has granted 17 resource consents relating to the $265 million Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme in a draft decision that would open more of the Hawke's Bay to irrigation.
This controversial scheme was opposed by environmental groups but opinion among local iwi was divided. It was referred to an independent board of inquiry headed by High Court judge Lester Chisholm in June 2013, attracting 384 submissions.
While the consents were approved, Labour's Conservation spokesperson Ruth Dyson said those opposed to the scheme had scored a victory in that the board rejected what is known as the "single nutrient" approach, where the focus was solely on the management of phosphorus in waterways, rather than phosphorous and nitrates.
The Board rejected that approach in favour of a 'dual nutrient' control which manages both phosphorus and nitrogen, according to its report. Dyson said the government had wanted the one nutrient model as a national benchmark. In ruling it out the board had protected the Tukituki River, she said.
Parties now have 20 days to make comments on minor or technical aspects of the report, although there is no scope to comment on the actual decision or the reasoning of the board.
The Hawke's Bay Regional Council's investment arm, the Hawke's Bay Regional Investment Company, has said the scheme had the potential to supply water for irrigated farming and horticultural uses to between 25,000 and 30,000 hectares of land, and was expected to create about 2,520 jobs for the region.
Last month Trustpower, the electricity company controlled by Infratil, terminated its memorandum of understanding with HBRIC and fellow backer Ngai Tahu Holdings, which would have seen it invest between $50 million and $60 million of the total cost of the project. At the time Trustpower said the scheme wasn't within its risk and return framework.
Ngai Tahu has since expressed reservations about its continued involvement. Funding is required from the government's Crown Irrigation Investment Company under the plan for the scheme, but this will not be forthcoming without sufficient private sector backing.
The Green Party, which led political opposition to the scheme, said the decision was not surprising, given HBRC's support for it and alleged suppression of information about it by the government.
"The decision to significantly increase the amount of water which irrigators can take from the Ruataniwha aquifer risks repeating Canterbury's mistakes where overuse of groundwater has depleted and reduced the flows in spring fed streams and seen them polluted with nutrients," said the Greens' water spokeswoman, Eugenie Sage.
"There are also serious questions about the business case for the dam given a previous Treasury report which questioned the farm gate financial viability of irrigation schemes."