Can the dam: Fish and Game

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A claim the Wairarapa Water Use Project (WWUP) is dead in the water is being made by Wellington Fish and Game which yesterday threw its support behind independent economist Peter Fraser who has called on it to be shelved.

Fish and Game wants future investigations to focus on smarter ways to farm and grow the regional economy. Manager Phil Teal said the latest dairy payout which saw Fonterra lower its sights to $3.90 per kg of milk solids is "the final nail in the coffin for the large-scale irrigation project which was never compelling from both an environmental and economic standpoint".

He said it was increasingly clear that a prudent approach to growth in Wairarapa was needed instead of " continuing to pour millions of dollars of taxpayer and ratepayer funds into an irrigation scheme, especially when independent analysis clearly rejects its viability".

Mr Teal said the Ruataniwha Dam in Hawke's Bay has cost ratepayers "many tens of millions of dollars, and counting" and that it was and is dubious as to whether a sod will ever be turned on the controversial project.

"The last thing the Wairarapa community needs is to be saddled with significant rates hikes to fund a project that wasn't even a goer when the dairy payout was in the $6 [per kg of milk solids] range. Now, with all indications pointing to low dairy returns being the new normal, the regional council really has no other option than to wisely use this as an off-ramp."

Mr Teal is calling on WWUP backers - Greater Wellington Regional Council and Government through the taxpayer-funded Irrigation Acceleration Fund - to be fiscally responsible and look at more economically and environmentally sustainable options.

He said rather than waste more rates and taxes on uneconomic dams, the regional council and Government should be backing future farming initiatives such as low-input farming systems.

"These are much better suited to dry areas and are proven to be more profitable than high-input, water-intensive industrial farming operations. Better for farmers and better for the environment; a win-win."

Wellington Fish and Game has had concerns about WWUP for some time for going well beyond its brief and acting as an irrigation advocate, rather than providing the Wairarapa community and its leaders with balanced, objective information.

"WWUP is supposed to be conducting a feasibility exercise.

"Instead it is acting as a pro-irrigation lobby. The quality of the debate in the community about the merits of irrigation is suffering as a result."

He said Wairarapa and civic leaders were being "promised the world", but WWUP was failing to put in front of them the many downsides to schemes, "not least of which are the huge costs that are inevitably borne by the community and the environmental impacts".

Mr Teal said despite what WWUP would inevitably now try to claim, the project was always predicated on intensive dairy expansion.

"WWUP has always been a dairy-heavy project. Their own figures show an expected doubling of intensive dairying. No other land use could, or can, afford the water.

"It's time to can the dam and concentrate on assisting struggling farmers convert to more profitable, sustainable systems."

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