Hawke's Bay's biggest environmental agency will be opposing a protection measure for two of the region's major waterways.

A Water Conservation Order has been applied for, which would cover the entire Ngaruroro, and 7km of the Clive rivers. It is designed to recognise and preserve the "outstanding values" of specific water bodies.

Such an order can impose restrictions, or prohibitions on how water from these bodies is used - which has raised concerns the order could result in job losses.

Yesterday, the Hawke's Bay Regional Council voted unanimously to oppose the order application.

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It is to be considered by a Special Tribunal, and the council had lodged its submission opposing the order "outright" to ensure the tribunal had all evidence needed to make an informed decision.

Hawke's Bay Regional Council chairman Rex Graham said the process cut entirely across the functions and role of their regional planning committee and the work of the TANK Group - which is reviewing the way land and water resources are managed in the greater Heretaunga and Ahuriri area.

"The most important thing we need to do is protect our rivers and streams, and support our local economy," Mr Graham said.

Although the council recognised the values of the Ngaruroro river which warranted protection, the region's values could be better expressed through a plan change - as TANK was exploring - rather than a Water Conservation Order.

This came after a public excluded council regional planning committee meeting, which was held to consider a Water Conservation Order submission, but could not come to an agreement.

The majority of tangata whenua representatives had preferred to take a neutral position, so they did not oppose the views of one of its hapu groups, who is one of the applicants.

It was jointly lodged by the Ngati Hori ki Kohupatiki, NZ Fish & Game Council, Hawke's Bay Fish & Game Council, Whitewater NZ, Jet Boating NZ and the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society.

Mr Graham said he understood, and respected the difficult position the committee was in, but "this Water Conservation Order is absolute nonsense and a waste of ratepayers' money".

"The council simply can't sit on the fence on such an important matter for our community. The water conservation order as it is currently written would decimate horticulture on the Heretaunga Plains and we can't let that happen."

As written, the order would place "dramatically more severe" constraints on groundwater takes during dry summer months than are currently being contemplated by TANK.

In the past eight years, it had been shown there were an average of 10 irrigation ban days per year. Under the Water Conservation Order, there would be an average of 27 days, or upwards of 90 irrigation ban days in an extremely dry year.