Water storage solution required

Clive Bibby

COLUMN

Wednesday’s editorial highlights the problems associated with overuse of scarce water resources. It is timely to expand the debate to include possible alternative water use systems that would take the pressure off the depleted aquifers and the endangered above-ground river flows. There are alternatives to the current systems that could accommodate the expansion of irrigated flats to include an extra 3000 hectares and still enable the rejuvenation of the aquifers to a point that is environmentally sustainable.

However, the system I have in mind doesn’t come cheap and is not without its own associated birthing difficulties.

I refer of course to a large water storage system that can service the growth potential currently lying dormant on the Poverty Bay Flats.

It is worthwhile reflecting on this resource in the context of other countries’ prioritising of agricultural ground of such high quality, and our own search for “game changer” options for economic development.

Imagine what the highly-populated regions of the world would do to secure the production potential of a resource such as ours. They would throw as much money at it as was needed to make it happen. We should consider doing the same.

However, before we rush off to investigate our options, we need to learn from other attempts to introduce similar strategies that have not gone so well.

Some years ago, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council designed a water storage scheme to enable the expansion of irrigated areas of the highly-fertile Ruataniwha plains in Central Hawke’s Bay. The main component of the proposal was the building of a dam on the Waipawa River that had the capacity for enough water storage to sustain the expanded number of irrigated properties even in times of drought.

As you would expect, the designers of this scheme were looking at satisfying a lot more questions than those coming from the farming community who would be the initial beneficiaries. They have had to fend off challenges from the environmental watchdogs and justify the plans to those who object to the priorities given it for expenditure of ratepayers’ money. Unfortunately, the political ambitions of some individuals has been allowed to influence important decisions, when logic and commonsense would have been a better arbiter.

The whole idea has become bogged down in a political debate that appears incapable of reaching a compromise and will probably result in the dam being canned. If that happens, the Hawke’s Bay region will have lost a unique opportunity to safeguard a major productive district from the threat of climate change.

The recent semi-drought on the East Coast showed that we are not immune from the same sort of damage in seasons like these, which will become more frequent, not less, in the future.

The Central Hawke’s Bay experience should be a focus for any future proposals to expand our own productive base.

We can’t ignore the probability that the same protagonists will be in the mix if we try that here, so it is incumbent on all of us to ask a simple question of ourselves.

How committed are we individually and collectively to make the sacrifices necessary for such a development proposal to become reality? Sadly, based on past performance, I don’t see enough people prepared to compromise their own interests or ideological persuasion to allow it to happen here either. It could be so different.

Wednesday’s editorial highlights the problems associated with overuse of scarce water resources. It is timely to expand the debate to include possible alternative water use systems that would take the pressure off the depleted aquifers and the endangered above-ground river flows. There are alternatives to the current systems that could accommodate the expansion of irrigated flats to include an extra 3000 hectares and still enable the rejuvenation of the aquifers to a point that is environmentally sustainable.

However, the system I have in mind doesn’t come cheap and is not without its own associated birthing difficulties.

I refer of course to a large water storage system that can service the growth potential currently lying dormant on the Poverty Bay Flats.

It is worthwhile reflecting on this resource in the context of other countries’ prioritising of agricultural ground of such high quality, and our own search for “game changer” options for economic development.

Imagine what the highly-populated regions of the world would do to secure the production potential of a resource such as ours. They would throw as much money at it as was needed to make it happen. We should consider doing the same.

However, before we rush off to investigate our options, we need to learn from other attempts to introduce similar strategies that have not gone so well.

Some years ago, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council designed a water storage scheme to enable the expansion of irrigated areas of the highly-fertile Ruataniwha plains in Central Hawke’s Bay. The main component of the proposal was the building of a dam on the Waipawa River that had the capacity for enough water storage to sustain the expanded number of irrigated properties even in times of drought.

As you would expect, the designers of this scheme were looking at satisfying a lot more questions than those coming from the farming community who would be the initial beneficiaries. They have had to fend off challenges from the environmental watchdogs and justify the plans to those who object to the priorities given it for expenditure of ratepayers’ money. Unfortunately, the political ambitions of some individuals has been allowed to influence important decisions, when logic and commonsense would have been a better arbiter.

The whole idea has become bogged down in a political debate that appears incapable of reaching a compromise and will probably result in the dam being canned. If that happens, the Hawke’s Bay region will have lost a unique opportunity to safeguard a major productive district from the threat of climate change.

The recent semi-drought on the East Coast showed that we are not immune from the same sort of damage in seasons like these, which will become more frequent, not less, in the future.

The Central Hawke’s Bay experience should be a focus for any future proposals to expand our own productive base.

We can’t ignore the probability that the same protagonists will be in the mix if we try that here, so it is incumbent on all of us to ask a simple question of ourselves.

How committed are we individually and collectively to make the sacrifices necessary for such a development proposal to become reality? Sadly, based on past performance, I don’t see enough people prepared to compromise their own interests or ideological persuasion to allow it to happen here either. It could be so different.

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