The timeframe for public submissions and information provided on the Central Hawke's Bay Ruataniwha water storage scheme was criticised at a forum to discuss the matter last night.
"Can Farmers and Environmentalists Both Win?" was the topic of the forum held at EIT, which discussed the pros and cons of the $500 million proposal.
It promises extensive irrigation for Central Hawke's Bay and guarantees a healthy minimum flow for the Tukituki River.
Fears the irrigation will lead to intensive farming, causing pollution, resulted in a turnout of about 150 people.
Andrew Newman, Hawke's Bay Regional Council chief executive, presented an overview of the project, which he said had the potential to lift productivity to the tune of $300 million per annum.
He said irrigated land would not be dominated by dairying.
"We have some pretty good figures as to why that may be the case," he said.
But his council was criticised for not releasing underlying information and making it difficult for people to make informed decisions.
Dr Roger Maaka, Dean of Maori Studies at EIT and an adviser to the scheme, said local Maori could live with the scheme so long as the Mauri of the Makarororo River, on which the dam would sit, was protected and enhanced.
He sought recognition of Maori in all facets of the scheme.
"We don't want to be the third tier of some economic trickle-down process," he said.
Forest and Bird's Vaughan Cooper said his organisation wanted "water we are proud of".
He said 180ha of significant ecological areas would be flooded, including mature stands of native trees. Species such as falcons, bats and fish would be displaced, but there were some mitigating effects offered, which he wanted legislated.
Hawke's Bay farmer Hugh Ritchie said farmers needed to consider the issues carefully.
"Without their support this scheme won't go ahead," he said.
Drought cycles were not sustainable for farmers and the scheme offered many opportunities to increase prosperity. The reliability and increase of yields easily outweighed any water price issues for most farmers, but once irrigation was introduced, a farm had to become more intensive.
"You can't spend that kind of money and be at the bottom of farming operations."
Tom Belford, publisher of Bay Buzz, said his role in the evening was "to stir the pot a bit".
He criticised the council for "using" the Tukituki for economic development instead of having an environmental focus. He said many farmers did not follow best practice and the council "did not bother" to investigate effects on the river from such farming methods, and the public consultation document was "a promotional effort, not a consultation".
The document was full of unsubstantiated projections with just 17 days left before submissions were due, he said.
"Sceptics have not seen, let alone independently assessed, a single spreadsheet or report backing up any of these claims."
He said bankers had told him only about 60 per cent of farmers kept financial budgets, so nutrient budgets were probably an unreasonable expectation.
Some growers are fearful of the downstream effects of the scheme.
Nigel Burbury, who has farmed on the Tukituki River in Havelock North for 22 years, was not impressed with the spontaneous motion that was passed, that the council extend the submission deadline by six months.
"My lifetime's work is at threat here and you ponce around about the Tukituki River."