As chairman of the Hawke's Bay Regional Council (HBRC) I was interested to read my fellow Councillor Peter Beaven's Talking Point on Monday where he still seems confused about the realities of the Ruataniwha proposal.
While he supports the concept of water storage, he's not convinced the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme is the best option and continues to support an alternative proposal presented to a council committee recently by him and the three other Hastings councillors (Where it was dismissed in a 6-4 vote).
It was discussed in detail with an in-depth presentation from HBRC Chief Executive Liz Lambert on why the alternative would not work. This included the fact that for an irrigation scheme to be successful it needs a distribution network to get the water to the farms. The alternative suggests using the Tukituki River system to deliver the water. Unfortunately this is not possible as there can be no delivery of water down the river without a primary distribution network (headrace). The alternative also overlooked the opportunity to provide water under pressure to the farmgate which the Ruataniwha Scheme does. This will run all irrigation systems, saving farmers thousands in energy costs.
Ms Lambert's presentation is available on the 'Ruataniwha' page on the HBRC website, under 'Key documents'.
The alternative proposal also suggests the dam could be funded from HBRC's $80 million and a Government loan. As outlined by Mrs Lambert this can't happen. Crown Irrigation Investments will only invest once private sector capital has been exhausted and will not enter into a financial structure not involving the private sector.
It is important the public knows that the Ruataniwha Scheme has been one of the most open infrastructure discussions in the past 50 years, outside of the commercially sensitive and legal issues that can't be made public.
As the scheme has progressed more information has been made publicly available. It is interesting to note that the councillors have been offered the opportunity to view all the documentation associated with the scheme in a specially set up due diligence room, yet there was a lukewarm response to this.
Councillor Beaven also raises concerns about a lack of financial detail at a recent farmer meeting in Waipawa, even though he was there. The feedback I have had is that it was an extremely valuable meeting with the South Island farmers present giving a realistic and detailed commentary of their experiences with irrigation and the costs associated with it.
Interestingly enough after the meeting, Federated Farmers Hawke's Bay Provincial President Will Foley said Canterbury farmers were envious of the Ruataniwha Scheme. He said for him the crucial take home message from the meeting was "that with the all up water price we're looking at for Ruataniwha, things still stack up for farmers."
Councillor Beaven says he's concerned farmers will sign up to the scheme and be broke in two years. Let's give farmers some credit. They're not going to make a decision like this lightly. They are seeking their own independent, expert advice on whether signing up to the scheme is right for them and their farming business.
That's why the water uptake process may seem slow to some. These farmers are taking their time and ensuring they have all the facts in front of them before they make a decision. I suspect they've spent a lot more time on these issues than Councillor Beaven has on his theories.
Earlier this year, after an extensive public consultation round, council voted 6-3 in favour of investing up to $80 million in the Ruataniwha Scheme subject to conditions. Mr Beaven was one of the councillors who supported this decision. We remain in the middle of a complex and extremely important process. This overt attack on the proposal is disingenuous when the alternative is so flimsy and without substance.
-Fenton Wilson is chairman of the Hawke's Bay Regional Council
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