Earlier this month around 100 people attended a public meeting in Waipawa, hosted by Transparent Hawke's Bay Inc (THB). The meeting sought to provide a safe and open forum for people to discuss and ask questions around the RWSS; and there were indeed many questions.
This week, we got the answer to one of them: "How much water is actually signed up, unconditionally?" Not the 40 million cubes needed to make this scheme a "goer"; not the 40 million cubes we were told by the dam promoters, including Irrigation NZ and Federated Farmers, that had been reached to bring the scheme "over the line"; not even close to the assurance from these players that "we've met the target". We now learn there is unconditional agreement for just 5 million cubes. At the Waipawa meeting, we also got an answer to a second question: is the scheme viable?
Guest speaker Peter Fraser gave an alarmingly clear "No, it is not".
Fraser, a recognised expert in his field, and using HBRIC's own analysis, showed that apart from the build phase there will be no net benefit to our communities, but a staggering loss over the term of the scheme even if, in the unlikely event, all farmers sign up to all available water over the term of the scheme.
Another "No, it is not viable" came from Barrie Ridler. Farm advisor, farmer and former senior lecturer in farm economics at Massey University, Mr Ridler was able to demonstrate unequivocally that the on-farm numbers simply do not stack up.
Andrew Wilson, a CHB farmer who has lived and farmed in the area throughout his farming career, pointed out that other aspects of climate (cold, winds, frosts, rainfall when not wanted) affect crop and pasture production as much, or more, than water. He also shared his current observation of schemes in the US (which is home for half each year), where small towns withered away after irrigation brought large corporates and seasonal, low-paid workers into a region.
Are we being sold a dummy? What drives this scheme? Is it an enthusiasm for building a large dam? Is it political? You can be sure that bankers, landowners, lawyers, and developers will lap up the rewards! Are there investors keen to do the same? Not yet!
So - where does this leave us as ratepayer investors in a scheme that does not stack up financially or economically? Nor, we are now being told by the High Court, environmentally?
What are the facts? The really important ones are hard to come by. A blanket "commercial sensitivity" ensures the public does not have access to any facts that might give a sense of comfort around our $80 million investment, or the long term liability of ratepayers if Peter Fraser's analysis proves to be right " and evidence suggests it is.
It should ring alarm bells that our Regional Council and its investment company are developers and promoters of this scheme, while still retaining the role of granting consents, managing, monitoring, and regulating those consents, with the added requirement to maximise return on investment for private and corporate shareholders. Ratepayers do not feature as investors!
Here are questions that the public want answers to:
1) What entity carries, monitors, and regulates water user agreements? Is it HBRIC; Ruataniwha Limited Partnership; Ruataniwha General Partnership; or something else?
2) Who, or what entity, monitors, manages and regulates consents for water take?
3) What volume of water has unconditional, signed agreements for water take?
4) A number of farmers have indicated a commitment (conditional) for five years at 10c per m3. What proportion of water volume at this rate, will contribute to the required 40m m3, and what is the impact on projected revenue?
5) Are farmers being offered incentives to sign a water user agreement?
6) What is the cost to taxpayer/ratepayer per year in subsidising irrigation water? 7) At what point over the life of the scheme could ratepayers reasonably expect a return on investment?
8)As an investment in economic development, were any alternatives considered before proceeding with feasibility of the dam structure?
9) What is the legal accountability/liability of Regional Councillors and investment company directors for the scheme?
These questions are currently with the Regional Council awaiting response.
Feedback from our Waipawa meeting asks for more such meetings, and THB will be planning these in the New Year, along with a request for workshops for farmers.
We do need water. RWSS as stands, is not the answer.-Pauline Elliott is the chair of Transparent Hawke's Bay.
-Business and civic leaders, organisers, experts in their field and interest groups can contribute opinions.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed are those of the writer, not the newspaper.