Hawke's Bay Regional Council chairman Rex Graham has warned that delaying the minimum flows proposed in Plan Change 6 for the Tukituki catchment, due to take effect in May next year, would not be a simple or quick process.
At the Hawke's Bay Regional Council Maori committee meeting on Tuesday, CHB mayor Alex Walker iterated a call made to the full council earlier in the month to delay implementing the minimum flow requirements for five years.
The minimum flow, below which irrigation bans are imposed, is set at 3500 litres a second. Under Plan Change 6 this would increase to 4300 litres a second by July 2018, and go up to 5200 litres a second in July 2023.
Ms Walker made the call, with the support of the Ruataniwha Water Users Group, comprising 40 members, who would feel the impact of the new flow limits.
She said that while water quality issues identified by the Board of Inquiry that came up with the plan were being addressed through Farm Environment Management Plans, due to be completed by May next year, water quantity was a separate issue.
"With water quantity the conversation has been around the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme and the minimum flows that were based on that.
"Now we do not have the RWSS, we are looking at 122 days maximum of water bans that could happen 55 per cent of the time.
"Water bans could be in place 25 years out of 40."
The whole community would feel the impact, she said.
"Farmers have said this will have an impact on their bottom line and that will affect spending and employment in the community.
"Now we need to think outside RWSS and have not had a chance to do that
"We need time to establish either global consenting arrangements, as in Twyford, or collaborative arrangements for future water storage options, to make decisions on investments."
Mr Graham said that if it was his decision alone he would be open to giving the community more time, but it was not that easy.
"You have to do a plan change to notify you are going to give more time and there are people who do not want to give more time, like Forest and Bird, and Fish and Game, who would have the opportunity to argue their case and it would probably go to the Environment Court.
"This would not just be our decision, it would not be simple."
Adding to the complexity of the issue were growing concerns around farming intensification, particularly dairy farming, and the affect of nitrogen.
Ms Walker said that in the Tukituki catchment, nitrogen was not so much of an issue as sediment and phosphorus, and added that of the 60 surface water consents affected by the minimum flows, only three were dairy farms.
Committee member Marei Apatu, representing Taiwhenua o Heretaunga noted that sediment and nutrient loss into the upper Tukituki catchment had a downstream affect on the estuary, and that the same issues were being grappled with by farmers involved in the TANK process.