Think Big water schemes not an economic panacea

“Think big” irrigation infrastructure developments may not be the economic miracle they are touted as being, Fish & Game NZ argues.

Fish & Game was commenting on the Hawke’s Bay plan for a Ruataniwha dam. The Environmental Protection Agency board of inquiry has confirmed its draft decision on the Tukituki Catchment proposal with the addition of some technical changes.

The board last week released its final report, which included decisions to allow the plan change request amendments and grant 17 resource consent applications.

It also confirmed the notice of requirement for the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme.

The final ruling means farmers will not be required to meet the instream limit of 0.8mg of nitrogen per litre of water in the Tukituki river, which had been a controversial clause in the draft ruling.

Other changes include an amendment to the rule where individual farmers must observe the DIN limit/ target in receiving waters, as well as raising the upper threshold for exceedences of LUC leaching rates (10% to 30%).

The scheme would reportedly irrigate 25,000 hectares in Hawke’s Bay at a cost of $275 million. However, would-be investors have all backed off so far.

Fish and Game NZ chief executive Bryce Johnson says the final decision upholds the principles of dual nutrient management to protect ecosystem health.

“Overall, this remains a significant victory for freshwater quality and, hopefully, the start of a paradigm shift that will set the agriculture sector firmly onto an environmental sustainability pathway.”

Although the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme has been granted consent to proceed, Mr Johnson argues that the final decision confirms real doubt over a project which was a tenuous financial proposition from the outset.

 “These 1980s style ‘Think Big’ irrigation infrastructure developments that lead to toxic rivers and poisonous drinking water aren’t the economic panacea for regional New Zealand that they are touted as being.

“Clearly the board of inquiry was convinced by the scientific facts and evidence, and the economic facts and evidence.” 

Jason Walls is an AUT journalism student

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