South Island iwi Ngai Tahu is prepared to pull its investment in the Ruataniwha Dam scheme if the water storage proposal does not reach "the same high ecological and cultural standards" the iwi has for its own rivers.
Ngati Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated (NKII) chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana said his iwi had reached that agreement with Ngai Tahu, which signed a memorandum of understanding with Hawke's Bay Regional Investment Company (HBRIC) that the South Island iwi would invest in the scheme once consents had been granted and the project's financial viability confirmed.
Mr Tomoana said if those standards "don't stick, then we'll ask them to pull out".
He said Ngai Tahu, a veteran irrigation-project investor, had agreed to let NKII use its scientists to peer-review decisions.
"We foresee this as a test case/prototype for most of our rivers throughout the country - both environmental and economic. We hope the economic side stacks up, too - the concern is still that the ratepayer will end up footing the bill for two generations."
Earlier this year Ngati Kahungunu had called for the dam proposal to be paused because it believed the regional council had not thoroughly discussed the project with all iwi in the region.
HBRIC managing director Andrew Newman said at the time extensive work had been done to develop relationships with tangata whenua when work on the dam and catchment proposal began.
On November 18 a board of inquiry, headed by retired High Court Judge Lester Chisholm, will begin three weeks of hearings in Hastings into the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme.
Maori rights to water were debated on the final day of the Federation of Maori Authorities (FOMA) annual conference in Hastings yesterday. During a panel discussion at the conference, which drew together 130 iwi-owned business organisations worth $8billion, Ngai Tahu leader Sir Tipene O'Regan said past Maori success over fishery rights was "not a natural fit" with the quest for water rights because fishery property rights were established by the Quota Management System.
"That was the point at which we were in a position to move," he said. The wrong concept was being argued for water, he told the conference. "Rather than arguing the ownership of water the question is, in my view, the use rights of water - we are dealing with the wrong concepts. I don't want to be the owner of water - and have the liability the next time Invercargill gets flooded." Sir Tipene told Hawke's Bay Today Hawke's Bay was squandering an opportunity. "One of the greatest resources of beautiful fresh water in the North Island is bubbling up under the Napier wharf and going out to sea, while you are all busy arguing about having droughts here. If it is that valuable and that fundamental, then surely the technical issues involved in the extraction of that water are going to be addressed.
"A society that can fly to the moon can work out how to bring a few extra feet of pipe through."
He said the country had an obligation to store water. "We have the greatest per capita access to the greatest water resource of anyone on earth and we throw the vast majority away without storing or utilising it.
"A culture that can behave like that, and have major political ructions over ditches and puddles, throws away the core of its resource. Society has to start to rethink what it's about. We do small things so much better than we face big issues - that's what huis like this are for."
Meanwhile, Mr Tomoana said he was "shocked" by a protest by Ngati Hineuru people outside the Hawke's Bay Opera House on Friday. The chanting and placard-waving protesters called for the resignation of their hapu's contracted Treaty of Waitangi negotiator, federation chairwoman Traci Houpapa, citing a conflict of interest that the federation denies.
"It was an opportunistic protest on the protocols of our iwi and that doesn't sit right - that our own people impinged upon the welcome to our visitors," Mr Tomoana said.
Despite the protest, unsanctioned by the hapu, the conference had been a success.
"The focus has all been positive ... There has been a three-pronged drive: to get more collaboration within Maori Inc, greater participation with New Zealand Inc to create an Aotearoa Inc, a blend of the two."