Central Hawke's Bay farmers and business people are being encouraged by local farmer Phil King to invest in the proposed Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme to ensure it is locally owned.
More than 200 people attended a meeting at Waipawa on Tuesday night to hear about the economic development potential of the scheme, which supporters say could bring about the same growth as seen in South Canterbury with the Opuha dam.
Timaru Chamber of Commerce chairman and Opuha Dam director Tony Howey was a guest speaker at the meeting. The audience also heard from local farmers Mr King and Richard Dakin, who use irrigation, as well as Hawke's Bay Regional Investment Company chief executive Andrew Newman.
Mr Howey talked about how irrigation had transformed his farming operation to a large-scale vegetable, grain and seed growing and processing enterprise, thanks to a reliable water supply.
"Irrigation means you can take things a step further than the raw product. It gives you a stable platform to get closer to the market with value added," he said.
He illustrated the impact of adding value with a slideshow of the large commercial areas that had grown around the city.
Washdyke, in particular, was now home to the likes of McCains, Seedlands, large flour mills, and a large Fonterra plant.
The flow-on effects of irrigation extended into the community, with the expansion of other businesses such as trucking companies, and housing.
Selling the scheme to farmers was difficult in the early stages, Mr Howey said.
"When you are living in the dry you tend to be risk averse. That mentality was in our area, the tendency to be conservative without reliability of water supply."
Those farmers who did invest were now seeing the returns, with irrigation from the Opuha dam creating more than $40 million per annum farm revenue in the region, he said.
Along the way, environmental considerations were given priority, and an increasing amount of time was being spent on considering such issues.
Since 2007, the Opuha scheme has been 100 per cent farmer-owned.
That model was one Tikokino farmer Mr King said was imperative for the Ruataniwha scheme.
"I'm delighted TrustPower has gone. We don't want someone like them clipping the ticket, we need to own this thing."
He suggested the Hawke's Bay community, both farmers and business people, raise $50 million to invest, and called on the CHB District Council to contribute $10 million.
"We have to have this thing, we have to make it happen."
Mr Newman said the minimum amount for such investment had been calculated at $50,000, and they were looking for a commitment of 40 million cubic metres of water uptake by farmers.