IT'S THE Local Authority Election season and I hope that given the contaminated water disaster in Havelock North, local voters will be more engaged with the process than they were last time round when only about four in ten eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot.
Having sold my property in Havelock North, I won't have a vote this time, but as many of my family still makes its home in the Bay, I will be rattling many cages.
I will watch the results of the Regional Council election with great interest.
With the drinking water disaster in Havelock North, the local election should turn into a referendum on water management and as this a Regional Council responsibility; it is that Council that is and should be in the cross-hairs.
At present The Regional Council is divided five votes to four on the on the biggest water project, the proposed Ruataniwha Dam, with a narrow majority in favour of this massive gamble with your money.
The group of Councillors driving the project consists of Alan Dick, David Pipe and Christine Scott representing Napier, Chairman Fenton Wilson from Wairoa and Debbie Hewitt from Central Hawke's Bay.
They would be desperately hoping that the whole matter was settled before the election which might well upset their plan for the dam.
With The Appeal Court ruling that the process used to acquire protected conservation land to flood for the dam was unlawful, plus the absence of the required major investor, the final decision on the dam must now be made by the new Regional Council which will be elected on October 8th.
Four Councillors, Rex Graham, Rick Barker, and Tom Belford, representing Hastings and Peter Beaven from the Ngaruroro constituency, while not necessarily opposed to the scheme have continually counselled caution.
To get some common sense into this debate, Messrs Beaven, Graham, Barker and Belford need to win their seats again and gain the support of one more councillor.
With councillors Pipe and Scott retiring at this election, it will only take one of the two new Napier councillors to vote with the four to get a proper review of water policy, to send the dam scheme back to the drawing board and to get some intelligence into the management of water.
The proposed dam, the Tukituki River and the aquifers which provide drinking water in Hawke's Bay, including Napier, are all parts of the same system united by the law of gravity.
The statement that the contamination of the Havelock North drinking water supply could "probably" not arise from the Tukituki River, coming from the same officials that couldn't tell us how much water was in the aquifers, is nonsense.
From a distance, it is difficult to understand the continued enthusiasm for the Ruataniwha project.
At the time the dam was first mooted, the price for dairy products was sky-high, intensive livestock farming was seen as a path to prosperity and I have no doubt that the originators of the scheme expected the irrigation water to go to dairy farm conversions.
With the steep fall in dairy prices which are only now slowly recovering; this rationale for the dam has long gone.
While the supporters of this project claim that there are enough sign-ups for the water to make the project viable, there remains doubt about whether the Region's ratepayers will have to fund shortfalls or if the Region will need to burden the Port of Napier with debt or privatise this asset.
The Regional Council's management of Hawke's Bay's water resources is sloppy to put it mildly.
Regional Chairman, Fenton Wilson was unable to tell Radio New Zealand whether feed lots required Resource Management Act consent; however the answer to this question came in an article in yesterday's edition of Hawke's Bay Today when an unnamed spokeswoman for the Regional Council admitted that feed lots do not require resource consent.
Victoria White, the Hawke's Bay Today reporter who extracted this confession should go further and find out just how many feed lots along the Hawke's Bay rivers are properly monitored.
My guess is that the answer in none.
My column last week mentioned a large feed lot near the Tukituki River and a reader emailed me the following (names redacted).
"The feed lot you mentioned is (redacted) farm which is part of (redacted) Farms. He has between 1000-1500 head of cattle on the shingle at any one time".
I cannot verify this statement (though I think I have found the site on Google Earth) so I have supplied the deleted bits to Victoria White and will look forward to her investigation.
The new Regional Council will need to focus on its responsibility to manage the region's water resources.
Forget the dam and clean up the drinking water instead.
Your vote counts!
¦Mike Williams grew up in Hawke's Bay. He is CEO of the NZ Howard League and a former Labour Party president. All opinions are his and not those of Hawke's Bay Today.