The battle lines for a huge Hawke's Bay water fight have been drawn as both sides of a proposed Water Conservation Order prepare to air their case.

An Environment Protection Agency hearing for the lower Ngaruroro and the Clive rivers will be held on February 26.

The hearing on the upper Ngaruroro has already been held, but a decision is yet to be made.

Horticulture NZ's chief executive Mike Chapman says placing a WCO on the Ngaruroro and Clive rivers would negatively impact the horticulture industry, and there are other protections already in place.


"This impacts our economy and our food supply, and a WCO is a blunt instrument that has been surpassed with better national and regional planning tools.

"For horticulture to thrive, and to continue its significant contribution to this region and the New Zealand economy, it is important for plans and policies to provide flexibility when it comes to water allocation."

"We believe that flexibility comes from existing planning tools such as the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management and regional plans."

"Growers understand the need to grow within environmental limits and have been working closely on regional planning with the Hawke's Bay Regional Council for years."

He said Horticulture NZ's evidence to the EPA included experts from a planning, recreation and tourism, agriculture and resource economics, and ecology.

Forest and Bird's regional manager Tom Kay says only taking an economic view of the situation is a limited way of thinking.

He said the Ngaruroro River was one of the few braided rivers in the North Island, providing habitat for bird and fish species which needed protection.

He said unlike many rivers in New Zealand it had amazing water quality the entire length of the river.


"A lot of low land rivers around New Zealand ... tend to get really degraded by the time they get to the sea."

He said recent survey's showed up to 5 per cent of New Zealand's banded dotterel population lived in the Ngaruroro, and other endangered and birds such as white heron, of which there are around 200 left, and black billed gulls also utilise the river.

He said having the WCO could be beneficial for the horticulture industry and wine growers.

"Being able to produce wine in 'clean, green New Zealand' has always been quite a big marketing thing."

"Being able to produce wine in Hawke's Bay where you've got this amazing river with a WCO flowing past your vineyard could be quite a selling point."

"We think there is no reason we can't co-exist."

He said while regional plans provided protection, they were subject to 10 year cycles, whereas a WCO would permanently protect the river.

Forest and Bird, along with other applicants, have submitted a draft WCO, however the final document would be written by the EPA.

It is then up Hawke's Bay Regional Council and the community to enforce the WCO.

As well as Forest and Bird, five other organisations have made an application to the EPA asking for a WCO on the two rivers. They are: New Zealand Fish and Game Council, Hawke's Bay Fish and Game Council, Operation Patiki Ngāti Hori ki Kohupatiki, Whitewater NZ Incorporated and Jet Boating New Zealand.