A reservoir capable of storing 90 million cubic metres of water for use on the Ruataniwha Plains moved a step closer to reality when a plan outlining its feasibility was accepted by the Hawke's Bay Regional Council yesterday.
The council sat through a 3-hour presentation from staff and consultants who were involved in a feasibility study for the overall Ruataniwha Water Storage Project, which sits in the upper Makaroro river, near the Ruahine Forest in Central Hawke's Bay.
The study concluded the $232.8 million project was feasible but was subject to demand and attracting both public and private investors. It would use a price range of 20 cents to 30 cents per cubic metre of water supplied to land owners and farmers.
The idea of building a dam surfaced as a result of on-going drought conditions along the East Coast and growing demand for water from irrigators and farm operations.
The study said the dam would store water during the winter and be available in summer when river flow levels were low.
It could service up to 30,000 hectares of land and include a hydro electricity station capable of generating 6.5 megawatts which translated into an annual value of $2.5 million.
The water would allow sheep and beef farms to head into more intensive operations and also convert dry land used for finishing farms into irrigated dairy farms, for example.
Councillors now have a month to digest the 141-page feasibility study and will meet on October 31 to decide whether it should move the project to the next stage.
Progressing would include preparing a resource consent application, working with landowners and irrigators to gage demand and talking with investors.
Councillors will also consider written submissions from the Tukituki Choices document which outlines four options for future uses and management of the Tukituki river catchment.
The council would ask the Environmental Protection Agency to consider and make a decision on whether to grant the consent, a nine-month process, which would conclude late 2013.
Ministry for Primary Industries' Irrigation Acceleration Fund representative Kevin Steel, who was at yesterday's meeting, said the study ticked all the boxes.
The Irrigation Acceleration Fund provided for $35 million during five years to support the development of smart irrigation infrastructure proposals to investment stage.
"In my experience in working with these proposals for the past 15 years, the package of work before you, to make a decision, is of a very high quality," Mr Steel said.
Trust in council 'put at risk'
People could lose trust and confidence in the Hawke's Bay Regional Council if it moved ahead with a plan to build the Ruataniwha Water Storage dam next year.
The accusation was put forward by Green Party MP Eugenie Sage who presented to the council yesterday before a report of the dam's feasibility was tabled.
"There is a real risk to the community's trust and confidence in the council as an independent and fair environmental manager and regulator when it has taken on the role of economic development agency and essentially been the consent applicant.
"If there was a genuine private sector demand for the scheme, then the private sector, rather than ratepayers and taxpayers, would be bearing a much greater share of the costs and risk."
Ms Sage said the council's strong promotion of the project created a conflict of interest in its role as a natural resource manager and environmental regulator.
She acknowledged there was a severe water shortage in Hawke's Bay for land owners and farmers, and the region had endured recent years of drought.
She suggested the council revisit an earlier plan to build a series of smaller dams over time rather than commit public money to a major reservoir.
"In a recessionary climate, now is not the time for costly think-big mega projects. Rather, it is time for informed community dialogue, difficult discussions on what sort of land use is appropriate in water-scarce zones."