Water-supply contracts for the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme could be owned by non-farmers, farmers were told at an irrigation field day yesterday in Ongaonga.
Water contracts would not be tied to land and could be sold separately, Hawke's Bay Regional Council economic development manager Michael Bassett-Foss said.
"The water contract could be more valuable than the land over time," he said.
The rules for trading the water contract had not yet been written but non-farmers would probably be able to invest, he said.
"There might be someone in Hawke's Bay with a lazy $10 million around who might be beneficial to the scheme."
No upfront costs were needed for the contracts because the cost of the scheme was being met by the Government and investors.
Expressions of interest were first being sought from farmers.
"We want to collect a little more information on what farm type you've got and what farm type you might be considering.
"We are not going to build the dam if there are not enough farmers who want the water."
Contracts would be for 35 years, the maximum length of a resource consent.
Water would be priced at between 22-25 cents per cubic metre - the final price would be decided later in the year - and would be linked to the Primary Producers Index.
It would be a take or pay contract - farmers pay for all of their allocation whether they use it or not but any surplus could be traded.
Farmer and chairman of the Ruataniwha Water Storage Project Leadership Group Sam Robinson said it was not in the community's interest for speculators to be allowed to invest in water-supply contracts.
Mr Bassett-Foss said there would be incentives for those who signed contracts before February.
"It looks like there are going to be discounts for four years and the discount will be around a quarter to a third off the full price."
Deep-water consents holders would be given a discount for scheme water also, he said, pointing out that their water could become less secure in the future.
Water from the scheme's dam was secure, he said.
"We have records going back 40 years on that catchment and we know that in 39 out of 40 years it will fill. In the 40th year it will fill 75 per cent. That 90 million cubic metres is very secure.
"The comforting thing under the climate-changes predictions is this region is getting a whole lot drier but the catchment that fills the dam is getting wetter."
Canterbury farmer Fraser Tasker spoke to the farmers, sharing his experience of intensifying his beef and sheep operation through irrigation.
"It has been rewarding and fun," he said.
"Thinking back to where we were and where we are now is awesome - and we haven't yet reached full potential."
The scheme is likely to be deemed a "proposal of national significance" by the Government and could be ready for construction at the beginning of next year.