I often agree with the views of your columnist Bruce Bisset but last Friday he stretched my patience with his half-baked and blatantly wrong assertions.
The regional council has not denied the public a say on a plan change to update the 'nutrient tables' for farms in the Tukituki catchment. On the contrary, we have applied to the Minister for the Environment to establish a hearings panel to publicly notify the proposed changes. We have already sought feedback from 50 organisations including iwi, Forest and Bird (who support the change) and Fish & Game.
The council is not proposing to change the Tukituki Plan's nutrient limits. These remain tough at 80 milligrams per litre, and wherever in the catchment these are breached, land use consents are required and consent conditions will be imposed that get nitrogen levels down to the required limits. Nothing in the proposed technical fix changes any of this.
The council has not changed its policy on publicly notifying new water bottling consents. Instead we have given staff the discretion on whether notification should be required for change of use for existing consents.
We are changing the definition of water bottling to support local businesses who want to make sports drinks and beer, and who were unable to under the old rules.
In answer to Mr Bisset's false assertions that there is "no talk of options to curtail growth" or "definitive caps" on water takes in Heretaunga – the council ceased allocating more water from the Heretaunga aquifer system in 2017.
We are currently consulting on a plan change to reduce current consented allocation by nearly 50 per cent, and then only allow consent holders to retain the water they can demonstrate they need for efficient, best practice water use. Growth in municipal water for Hastings and Napier is already capped by current consents and is proposed to reduce further under the notified TANK Plan Change (which introduces new ways to manage the land and waterways of the Tūtaekuri, Ahuriri, Ngaruroro and Karamū catchments). This is the biggest shift in water management in the region's history.
The council's water storage proposals have always been premised on first providing water to our rivers to address the environmental impacts of all existing water use in our towns, businesses and horticulture. With expected increases in the frequency and severity of droughts, climate change has always been a driver for the council's water security work programme.
Decisions on providing more water for growth lie ahead and will not come before our environmental goals have been reached.
We have built two cities, extensive food processing industries and a horticultural sector that is the envy of the world and powers our economy, all drawing from Heretaunga's water resources. I for one am not going to stand by and see our region wither under the effects of climate change. Water is the lifeblood of our community and we need to continue to use it for our homes and businesses, and therefore we need to store winter flows to ensure supply for summer and secure our regional prosperity.
Council staff have not stymied councillor Rick Barker's proposed climate mitigation unit, but have raised process issues – as it is their job to do - to ensure the initiative is well planned, considered and effective. To suggest Councillor Barker has been forced to propose this because the council is inactive on climate change mitigation is just plain wrong.
We provide the region's public transport (currently free!), over 200km of cycle trails, a Sustainable Homes Programme helping hundreds of homeowners to install solar panels and efficient home heating, a $30 million tree planting subsidy scheme, and our Enviroschools programme in 80 schools across the region teaching our next generation of leaders of the changes we urgently require.
All of this is on top of the comprehensive climate change adaptation work we are doing on sea-level rise coastal protection, upgrade of flood schemes, water security and irrigation efficiency, and securing erodible land.
Far from the council softening its approach to protecting and enhancing our environment, we are focused on tackling the climate crisis, expanding our work and basing this on sound science and good process rather than negative banner waving rhetoric.
* Rex Graham is chair of Hawke's Bay Regional Council