People across Hawke's Bay are connecting the dots when it comes to water.
The gastro outbreak casts doubt on the sanctity of our "pristine" aquifers.
Extensive media coverage has alarmed many, many more citizens than were personally infected by the campylobacter bug.
The heightened "water consciousness" has roused the community around a host of water issues.
Cows in the Tukituki just upstream from the Havelock North aquifer it feeds.
Further up the Tuki, shocking photos of feedlots where thousands of cows are confined near streams feeding the river, which serves as a farm drain for their effluent.
The daily waste of 1000 cows is more than that of the entire population of CHB. Similar photos have been taken along the Ngaruroro, which feeds the Heretaunga aquifer.
Back on the Tukituki, the wastewater plants at Waipawa and Waipukurau still fail to meet all compliance requirements, 10 years after the Environment Court lifted their standards. And these poo ponds overflow with regularity into the Tuki.
Building a dam will compound this Tuki mess by nearly doubling the amount of nutrients leached into the catchment.
Incredibly, dam advocates morph this into a benefit. Moving from the Tuki, regional council data indicates water levels in the Heretaunga aquifer have been declining for at least 20 years.
Yet we continue to grant consents (nine at last count) to those who want to bottle and export water from that aquifer. What ever happened to the "precautionary principle"?!
And rubbing salt in the wound, while Havelock residents were forced to replace their free natural water with purchased bottled water, those exporting our water take it for free, with no economic return to the people of Hawke's Bay.
No more water bottling consents should be issued until/unless we establish the long-term sustainability of potentially unlimited water bottling takes. And, if the takes are sustainable, until we find a way to compensate our community for this use of our water.
Thank god the oil industry has given up on Hawke's Bay (at least for now), or we'd face another threat to our aquifers - fracking. Instead we face the prospect of long-term chlorination.
How has all this happened?
Because too many councillors have been asleep at the wheel. At HBRC five councillors - the Dam Five - have been in a deep coma. Repeatedly, four councillors - Belford, Barker, Beaven and Graham - have attempted to stop the practices described above. We sounded the horn, but we haven't controlled the wheel or the brake.
Protesting cows in the river, we're told wait until 2020, when new rules come into play.
What about providing incentives to act more quickly? Backed by official pressure.
To no avail, we've called time and again for more pressure on the CHB Council to get its sewage treatment right - a topic studiously avoided by CHB's regional councillor, as it would suggest the Tuki's not dam-ready.
We've tried to get ahead of any future oil and gas drilling by placing tighter restrictions on development, including fracking.
Thwarted again. Long before the flip-flopping of HBRC candidate Cynthia Bowers on water bottling began (first she's for it, gushing over the business; then reading the political winds, she's against it ... what next?), we four councillors pressed unsuccessfully to stop water bottling consents. And we were rebuffed in efforts to commit more money NOW to better study our aquifer.
And finally, the proposed dam. Another example of where councillor Bowers struggles to keep her canoe upright in the campaign rapids. Is she FOR the dam, but only with conditions that make it impossible? Or AGAINST, but keeping her options open as she "discovers" more information that might change her mind? It's a dam mystery.
Unlike councillor Bowers, councillors Belford, Barker, Beaven and Graham have digested the case for and against. We've voted AGAINST awarding the scheme $80 million. Again over-ruled by the Dam Five.
We four have dug deeply into each of these issues and consistently done our best as a team to limit the damage. Some call that bickering. We call it our duty - defending on all fronts the integrity of HB's most precious resource.
Councillor Bowers has had 21 years to sort out the water responsibilities of the Hastings Council, and we still have drinking water problems, still no contingency plan for dealing with a water-borne outbreak, and the threat of permanent chlorination.
We don't have another 21 years for her to get up the learning curve, test the political winds, and sort the rest of Hawke's Bay's water issues.
Like the public, we four Hastings/Heretaunga councillors have already connected the dots. We're already on the case, awaiting just one more like-minded councillor from Napier, CHB or Wairoa.
- Tom Belford is a Hawke's Bay regional councillor and is standing for re-election in the October local government elections.
- Views expressed here are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's. Email: email@example.com