A watershed agreement is being announced in the region today that could signal a way to end irrigation bans across New Zealand
The agreement between a group of landowners, the Twyford Co-operative, in Hastings and the Hawke's Bay Regional Council, comes three years after a total water ban sparked grower outcry and unprecedented public protests that saw 300 tractors driven through the streets.
Landowners in the catchment area have agreed to "give to gain" by signing over their existing individual water rights to become part of a group stewardship model under a global consent.
The council's resource management group manager Iain Maxwell said growers could now tap into all the available allocated water, when and where it was needed, as determined by the grower group.
"It is a great environmental and economic solution that meets high expectations of the public on managing water rights within the limits outlined by the Resource Management Act, without trade-offs or compromises," he said.
"Our agreement could lead to a change in the way irrigators and councils work through irrigation bans throughout New Zealand."
Twyford grower Kevin Bayley, who protested three years ago, was one of the first to sign up and said this agreement would protect all landowners.
Mr Bayley owns and leases more than 200ha of land across the Heretaunga Plains growing fruit and vegetables.
"Why should my neighbour be penalised for a lack of water when I have more than enough water under my resource consent?
"The 2012-13 drought brought everything to a head, Twyford had lots of water in the catchment but, under the old consenting process, we couldn't get to it.
"In the end, we were limited to the river flows, which enforced a total water ban. We had to come together to find a workable, sustainable solution.
"There is still work to be done but we've come a long way."
Cheal Consultant's principal and senior planner Cameron Drury, who developed the global consent framework and resource consent application, said it was a paradigm shift for both irrigator and regulator and set a positive way forward for other regions.
"It gives the Twyford Co-operative the tools and responsibility to manage existing water rights within the limits of the Act."
The move has been welcomed by Pipfruit NZ and Horticulture NZ. Twyford Co-operative chairman and Horticulture NZ representative Jerf van Beek said this agreement provided landowners, growers and farmers across the catchment with certainty and reliability of water, even in severe drought.
He said the consent gave growers flexibility, control and access to all the existing water allocation.
"In return we become the stewards of the water and we will also be responsible for ensuring the river flows remain at the right level." He said the old consenting system meant growers could not get immediate access to the water they needed for emergency irrigation.
Pipfruit NZ chief executive Alan Pollard said it showed how the irrigator and regulator could work together for a practical and pragmatic solution.
"We now have an industry template for others to follow."