Water users from Central Hawke's Bay have appealed for the introduction of minimum river flows in the Tukituki catchment to be delayed, fearing the 'severe' impact they will have on the district's agriculture-dominated economy.

Led by CHB mayor Alex Walker, the delegation from the Ruataniwha Water Users Group (RWUG) made the appeal at a Hawke's Bay Regional Council committee meeting last Wednesday, requesting a delay of up to five years before the minimum flows are introduced under the council's Plan Change 6.

The regional council says PC6 will lead to better water quality across the Tukituki catchment through higher minimum flows, improved land use practices and landowner-led innovation.

The scuttled Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme was a key plank of the plan change.

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Mayor Walker told the council meeting that following the demise of the dam project, water users needed more time to find alternative solutions to the issues of water quantity and water quality in CHB.

The likely reduction in water takes allowed under PC6 would hurt the agriculture-driven district and leave businesses struggling to survive, she said, which would have a devastating ripple effect on the wider community.

Pushing the dates out for the minimum flows was crucial to the health and vitality of the community she said, as users needed time to collaborate to come up with innovative solutions, and invest in ensuring water quality and quantity.

The PC6 flow increase will take effect in tributaries in May 2018, and for the main Tukituki River from Red Bridge in two stages - in 2018 and 2023.

Slow uptake on FEMPs

Their plea comes as figures show a worryingly small number of farms in CHB have completed farm environmental management plans (FEMPs), which will be a legal requirement under plan change 6 when it comes into effect at the end of May next year.

The regional council estimates 1100 farms in CHB will need to have farm plans in place by May 31, 2018. But as of last week, council said just 200 of the plans had been approved to date, with 43 filed awaiting approval and 40 plans in progress - only around a quarter of the total number of farm plans required.

Given the low numbers, council's land advisors met with 34 farm plan providers in Waipawa last week to "tackle the challenge".

HBRC's catchment management team leader Brendan Powell said at this stage, the pressure was on individual landowners to commit to work with farm plan providers.

The plans were not a solution in themselves, he said, but spelled out what adjustments farmers needed to make to reduce the environmental impact of their farms.

"From our perspective, the priority-setting and on-farm actions that come out of a farm plan will see water quality improve downstream from farming activities," he said.

The regional council was increasingly relying on approved farm plan providers to deliver a solid foundation for the next steps in the plan change, and that farmer-provider relationships were hugely important.

"We're setting up an approval, accreditation and auditing process for providers so that farmers dealing with an approved provider can be confident in the product they receive," he said.