Strict conditions surround the approval of the controversial $275 million Ruataniwha dam and water-storage scheme.
The Hawke's Bay Regional Council, Central Hawke's Bay farmers, environmentalists and others will today continue poring over the details of an extensive board of inquiry decision set to have a major impact on the environmental and economic future of CHB and the wider region.
In a draft decision released yesterday, the board approved resource consents for the Ruataniwha dam and water-storage scheme proposed to be built northwest of Waipawa and Waipukurau, along with associated changes to the Hawke's Bay Regional Resource Management Plan. In its decision, the five-member board granted the 17 resource-consent applications relating to the dam and storage scheme, subject to conditions.
It allowed the plan change based on a detailed set of conditions including limits on nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the Tukituki catchment.
The regional council had argued during the hearing that only phosphorus levels needed to be controlled but environmental groups pushed for the inclusion of restrictions on nitrogen as well.
Andrew Newman, chief executive of Hawke's Bay Regional Investment Company (HBRIC), the council's commercial arm which has been driving the scheme, said having consents approved was a relief, but the company would now be busy analysing the full impact of the decision.
"Ultimately whether the storage scheme proceeds or not will boil down to a very simple issue: can farming enterprises intensify their operations, do so within the regulatory limits set and also undertake that commercial process and run it profitably," he said.
Vaughan Cooper, chairman of the Hastings and Havelock North branch of Forest and Bird, said the board's inclusion of nitrate limits in the plan change was "a key win for the environment" and the nitrogen levels the board had settled on was "also a good win".
Approval for the dam would lead to the loss of a lot of natural habitat, however, he said.
Ngati Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated, which has opposed the scheme, was pleased the board had applied greater water-quality protection measures.
Irrigation NZ chief executive Andrew Curtis called the decision "bold and encouraging".
Denis Hames, a principal and agri-specialist with accountancy firm Crowe Horwath in Hastings, said the decision would allow farmers to make crucial decisions about whether to become involved in the project. "They're talking about a significant amount of expenditure not only in terms of purchasing water but also putting the infrastructure into their farms," he said.
The decision, along with schedules of conditions, runs to 1200-plus pages and the council, its investment arm, farmers, and lobby groups said yesterday it would take time to fully understand its impact - both on the future of the Ruataniwha scheme and how environmental issues are managed in the Tukituki River catchment.
The council has proposed building the dam as a way of alleviating drought problems and boosting the local economy through improved primary production on the Ruataniwha Plains.
The project would involve building an 83m-high dam on the Makaroro River to store water for irrigating 25,000ha of land on the plains. Changes to the management plan, affecting the Tukituki River catchment, are needed because of the impact the scheme would have on the catchment.
The board of inquiry, headed by retired High Court Judge Lester Chisholm, will consider submissions on its draft decision before issuing a final determination, due by May 28.
The regional council's corporate and strategic committee will today consider a proposal to spend $80,000 on a public consultation process before councillors vote in late June on whether to invest up to $80 million of ratepayer money into the Ruataniwha project.