Dam will boost overall health of Waipawa River: Mayor

By Simon Hendery

Peter Butler (right) shows Hawke's Bay Today reporter Simon Hendery the state of Waipawa River, viewed from his farm. Photo/Glenn Taylor
Peter Butler (right) shows Hawke's Bay Today reporter Simon Hendery the state of Waipawa River, viewed from his farm. Photo/Glenn Taylor

The hills on Central Hawke's Bay Mayor Peter Butler's Tikokino Road farm offer sweeping views of Waipawa River and the Ruataniwha Plains.

It is an ideal place to get a perspective on how water, or the lack of it, is affecting the region: the near-dry river bed below tells the story.

The scene will be different, Mr Butler says, if the Ruataniwha dam and water storage scheme goes ahead. Under the scheme, river levels on the Waipawa, and its overall health, would be improved by regular "flushing" through the release of water from the dam - a fact overlooked by environmentalists opposed to the project, he says.

Then there are the economic benefits the irrigation scheme would bring to the region. Mr Butler spent an afternoon earlier this month taking Hawke's Bay Today on a visit to farms, orchards and other businesses on the plains that have already benefited from irrigation.

Supporters of the scheme, including Mr Butler, say it will provide a much-needed economic boost by providing more certainty and expansion opportunities for a range of water-dependent businesses on the plains.

Opponents, including Ngati Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated (NKII) and a number of environmental groups, fear that more intensive farming and land use will pollute the Tukituki River catchment. Mr Butler was criticised last week after derogatory comments about NKII chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana he emailed to Central Hawke's Bay district councillors were made public.

Mr Butler said the comments were taken out of context from an email focused on outlining the employment benefits highlighted by his tour with the newspaper.

On the tour he expressed his frustration that media coverage of a board of inquiry hearing into the dam proposal had focused on the "squeaky wheel" opponents of the project rather than the economic benefits it would bring.

He introduced Hawke's Bay Today to farmers and growers already benefiting from irrigation using aquifer water on the plains. They agreed the Ruataniwha scheme would add further opportunities, boosting the millions of dollars already paid out in wages to workers on the plains.

Dairy farmer Lindsay Smith said his Makaroro Road property had grown from milking 360 to 1550 cows thanks to irrigation and now supported workers from 10 families as well as providing work for local tradespeople. "There's always a contractor of some sort on this property," Mr Smith said.

Access to water provided certainty in a parched area previously known as "snake country" and this had given him confidence to keep investing in the business.

"We've been constantly spending because irrigation is insurance," he said.

Grower David Addis, on nearby Tikokino Road, said he employed 30 people over the four-month peak season and was reliant on irrigation.

Rodger Tynan, of Lime Rock Wines, said the business had grown from a single paddock vineyard to employing six full-time staff and needed water at crucial times of the year.

He said the Ruataniwha water scheme was likely to lead to strong interest in grape growing on the plains.

Mr Butler said Ngati Kahungunu were not being made aware of the benefits of the Ruataniwha scheme, including the additional flows it would send down the Waipawa River.

"That would be the most important aspect for them. The media are not giving us the news that could be good out of this dam."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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