Regional councillors defend water actions

By Patrick O'Sullivan

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A display for a growers' Hang Up Our Boots campaign to oust sitting councillors.
A display for a growers' Hang Up Our Boots campaign to oust sitting councillors.

Councillors have called foul over Twyford growers' claims they have not engaged over water restrictions.

Councillor Murray Douglas says a motion was passed by council to mitigate growers' concerns on the same day as growers met to plan political action.

Twyford growers were forced to truck in water to dying trees in Twyford, west of Hastings, after council placed a ban on irrigation after record-low Ngaruroro River levels during last summer's drought.

Growers throughout the district have formed Growers Action Group (GAG), calling for all councillors to be replaced in the upcoming elections for ones that will supply "sensible" water management.

The council motion addressed their concerns in ordering an urgent report, much of it word for word from Twyford Irrigators Group chairman Jerf van Beek, Mr Douglas said.

Mr Douglas was automatically invited to the meeting but was disinvited because he was a councillor.

"They full well knew that the council was trying to help - Jerf was at the meeting when the motion was passed."

Mr Douglas, an orchardist and councillor since June, said the one-in-70-year drought "caught everyone on the back foot".

"Both council and I have been trying to put in place a variety of tools to mitigate, if not avoid, any further issue in future years."

He said there was no question water had to be managed - it was a legal requirement for councils to act to maintain the low flow level that they had designated.

One option is to make use of artesian water.

"Even if we had to run a pipe a kilometre - we have the ability to do that."

He said that when the prospect of an irrigation ban looked likely "everybody irrigated like mad".

"You can see that in the data and they have acknowledged that, but blaming everyone for what happened in March and April doesn't get us to the next problem - how to do you avoid it?

"Even if you got a whole new set of councillors they would still have the same set of problems. You can't change the Plan quickly, you can't go below minimum flow, so you have to do the sorts of things council is already working on.

One project is planning management plans for the Tutaekuri, Ahuriri, Ngaruroro and Karamu (TANK) catchments

TANK's 30 members were drawn from farming, special interest groups and tangata whenua.

Solutions would be incorporated into a plan change in 2016, looking at providing irrigation, preventing contamination of waterways and safe drinking water.

Mr Douglas said a drought management plan needed to be in place because "this will happen again with climate change".

Long-serving Hawke's Bay Regional Councillor Kevin Rose, a former orchardist, said Heretaunga Plains issues were "too important to be ignored" but there was one meeting he did not attend - but five council staff did.

"Staff sent me an email saying there was going to be some political representation from the district council and would I be available if they needed to have political representation from our council - and I said I would be happy to attend.

"It was an operational meeting on how the consents operated - it wasn't a political meeting - and I got an email later in the afternoon saying that it would be handled by staff." Mr Douglas said a councillor may have calmed the waters.

"Sometimes with staff you have to jog their memory that there are alternatives.

"Particularly when they are being attacked they go into defence mode and point to the rules."

Councillor Christine Scott chairs the Council's Hearings Committee and is a member of TANK. She said she was "fully aware" of all water consents and worked closely with Twyford irrigators in TANK.

"I have never been invited to any meeting with Twyford growers but whenever any have called, concerned with their consent after it has been granted, I have gone to discuss it with them in person."

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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