A Central Hawke's Bay farmer says the regional council is downplaying the water shortage issues his district is experiencing.

Alistair Setter has told Hawke's Bay Regional Council representatives that rivers were drying up and residents were running out of water.

"Only a week ago I was on a dry Waipawa River bed that the locals here, who have lived here for over 100 years, have never known to go dry in October," Setter said, speaking at a public meeting in CHB Municipal Theatre on Tuesday.

He said if the proposed Tranche 2 water take, which would see 15 million more cubic metres come out of the aquifer, goes ahead, the community will face a water ban earlier and for longer.

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Central Hawke's Bay mayor Alex Walker said the community had reached a pinch point.

She said managing water had four major aspects to it - economic, societal, cultural and environmental - and over summer those four aspects become more difficult to manage.

"All of those things are colliding. We want the river to be healthy, we want to run our businesses, we want to irrigate our farms, we need to drink water."

She said the problem gave the community a chance to be innovative.

"Next generations of farmers are coming on to that land and doing what dad or granddad did and doing it better, or doing it differently.

"Yes, we have a constraint in that system, but I think we also have an opportunity to stimulate that innovation to deal with that challenge."

The CHB Municipal Theatre was packed with residents, concerned about the water problems. Photo / Paul Taylor
The CHB Municipal Theatre was packed with residents, concerned about the water problems. Photo / Paul Taylor

Walker and regional council staff gave presentations to the packed theatre, followed by a panel discussion with representatives from both the regional and district councils, iwi, Forest & Bird, irrigators and surface water users.

Regional council chief executive James Palmer said the council was unable to move quickly on the issue, due to the Resource Management Act.

"The resource management system in New Zealand is incredibly slow to work with."

He said typical resource consents for water use were up to 35 years, which allows businesses to make investment decisions, but also means it is hard to change those allocations.

The council's principal hydrology scientist Jeff Smith said the science team was working with the Tukituki Water Taskforce and the community to better understand the problems.

"If you've got an issue then make it known.

"That's what we are wanting from the Taskforce group - a big list of all the problems and issues so we can try and resolve this."

The first project the council is looking at completing is installing telemetered bores in Ongaonga and Tikokino, allowing them to monitor groundwater levels in real time, rather than monthly.

It will be completed this summer.

Longer-term projects the council is working on include recharging the aquifer during high-flow periods by capturing water and returning it to the aquifer.

It also plans to do an electro-magnetic survey to better understand what is happening in the depths of the aquifer.

At present the municipal water supply for CHB District Council is just over 3 million cubic metres. In comparison, one dairy farm in CHB has an allocation of more than 8 million cubic metres of water.