News and Publications

Outlook: Rural - March 2015

The water from the dam is intended to meet the needs of three broad user groups. The Waimea Irrigation users require 50% of the intended water volume, Tasman and Nelson urban community water supplies would require 25% and the remaining 25% is required to meet the environmental flows in the Waimea River and the future requirements of the Tasman and Nelson communities.

The cost of the dam has been identified at $74 million. The proposal separated the funding into those three groups. The land owners in the identified area of irrigation users were required to meet the 50% share irrigation share of the proposal on a per hectare land basis, whether they were irrigators or not. The Richmond community requirement of 25% was to be met by a special rate on properties supplied with water from the various Richmond water supplies. The 25% requirement for the environmental flows in the Waimea River and future requirements were to be met by an identified rate on every property across the Tasman District.

A wide range of submissions were received by the council both in support and against the funding proposal. Public hearings were held enabling submitters to present oral representations on the proposal.  

The discussion proposal sought submissions on the funding proposal only and did not address the need for the dam. The requirement for the dam has been investigated over the past 12 years. Although there has been some debate over the dams’ requirement, there is clear consensus that water augmentation is required to meet the present and realistically predicted future water requirement of the Waimea Plains and Richmond communities.

As a consequence of the consultative process and the overwhelming opposition to the proposed funding model the council have withdrawn their proposed funding model and the future of the dam is now in abeyance. At present there is no clear plan for the dam and certainly no alternative proposal for the funding of the project.

The need for water augmentation however has not gone away. That need was amply illustrated over the past summer with steps one and two of the water rationing condition of the Resource Consents for water abstraction from the ground-water being implemented in early February and extending through to mid March. Step one rationing reduces water allocations by 20% extending to 35% in step two. Step three increases the reduction to 50%.  The decision to go to step three was held off pending rain in the 2nd week of March. In total the rationing period extended for just over six weeks.

The recent Plan change to the Tasman Resource Management Plan that establishes the policy for future Resource Consents for water abstraction recognised that the water resources of the Waimea catchment area are over-allocated. The existing Resource Consents for water abstraction from the catchment all expire by 31st May 2017. Subsequent Consents will be granted on the basis of the recent plan change which incorporates a 30% reduction in allocation from the aquifers. 

The plan change also provides for the residual flow in the Waimea River at the Appleby Bridge to be raised from the present low flow level of 600 litres per second to 800 litres per second. That provision will have the effect of triggering water rationing much sooner in a summer dry period and prolonging the period of rationing. Those new low flow levels would have resulted in step three rationing to 50% of consented take for a period of four to five weeks in the 2015 summer.

The net effect of those two provisions, the reduction in allocation to 70% of previous volumes and the higher residual flow in the river, would have resulted in water allocations being reduced by as much as 65% of current consented volumes over the step three rationing period.

By way of example a consent that currently provides for 1000m³ per week will be reduced to 700m³ per week at renewal. Step three rationing would reduce the take to 50% of that volume or 350m³ per week over the rationing period. Based on the river flows over the just finished dry period that step three rationing period would have been introduced in early to mid February and extended for around five weeks. The impact of that reduction would have been severe on all of those properties that are dependent on irrigation to maintain production.

The plan change also provides for the cessation of water abstraction at the discretion of the council. That provision is however still subject to appeal and may change. However, if implemented, a cease-take requirement would result in severe production loss, that would inevitably impact on employment, if it continued for any more than a few days. Hydroponic vegetable crops in glasshouses for instance would perish within four hours of the water being cut off. 

It is therefore abundantly clear that water augmentation is required if intensive horticulture and dairy farming are to be maintained on the Waimea Plains. There is a desperate need for irrigators to pursue options for the funding of the dam. A secure long term water supply is essential to maintain the sustainability of the important horticultural and pastoral contributions to the economic base of the region.

The Tasman District Council have taken steps to progress the funding of the urban communities share of the project by including a maximum $25 million contribution in the Long Term Plan 2015-2015 discussion document. That funding is by no means secure but is open to submissions in the Long Term Plan Submission process. Submissions to the plan close at 4pm on the 20th April 2015. All parties with an interest in, or reliance on water should consider making a submission to the council on that proposal.

The autumn rains have been very timely this year and have provided welcome relief from the need to irrigate. However they have not solved the fundamental problem of insufficient water resources to meet the present, let alone the future water requirements of the district. It is unlikely that a compulsory funding scheme will ever meet with the approval of the wider community. There is however a strong undercurrent of support from most irrigators to support a user based funding model and those options need to be pursued further.