Central Hawke's Bay farmers have so far signed up to take 5.4 million cubic metres of water a year from the Ruataniwha dam - only about a seventh of the volume needed to get the irrigation scheme off the ground.
But the ratepayer-funded company behind the project says it has a healthy "pipeline" of potential water contracts it is confident of closing and only five per cent of potential users have said no to the irrigation scheme. The figure of 5.4 million cu m worth of signed contracts is included in a Hawke's Bay Regional Investment Company (HBRIC) report prepared for today's meeting of the Hawke's Bay Regional Council.
It is the first time HBRIC, the council's commercial arm, has publicly disclosed the total volume farmers have committed to take from the scheme through signing water user agreements with the company.
The $275 million Ruataniwha water storage scheme needs to overcome a number of hurdles before it can proceed - including a requirement that irrigators agree to take a minimum of 40 million cu m of water a year.
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HBRIC's monthly update report to the council - compiled a few days before the release of a High Court decision last week impacting on resource consent issues relating to the dam - described water sign-up progress as "good considering we are still awaiting the consent decision".
In its decision the High Court ordered the board of inquiry that granted consents for the dam to rework one of the conditions it put in place as part of a related amendment to the Hawke's Bay Regional Management Plan affecting the Tukituki catchment (Plan Change 6).
The court-ordered alteration to the plan change condition relates to nitrogen levels in the catchment's waterways and could have an impact on plans for more intensive farming in the dam's irrigation zones.
HBRIC board members and the company's chief executive, Andrew Newman, are due to attend today's meeting and are expected to be grilled by councillors about the impact of the High Court ruling on the viability of the irrigation project. In its monthly report, HBRIC says it has identified 322 properties of over 20ha that could be irrigated by the scheme. The company had visited about two-thirds of them and as a result has a "pipeline" of potential water sales totalling 40.5 million cu m a year. By the end of this month it is expected to have provided information and water user agreements to farmers interested in taking 25 million cu m. "... we will be focusing on building more properties and irrigable areas into the base of the pipeline," the report says.
Land users at 13 properties, or about 5 per cent of those HBRIC had visited, did not want to proceed with irrigation.
Reasons given for not wanting to sign up to the scheme were that land owners were "looking to change the property tenure" or that the geography of their land was not suitable for irrigation.