While it was a solemn issue, the occasion was joyous as we marched with our families and friends from Havelock North to the Hastings town centre on Saturday.

Ngahiwi Tomoana was waiting to greet us and Henare O'Keefe had the hot sausages ready, cooked on tunutunu by the Flaxmere Boxing academy.

We marched for fresh clean drinking water in our homes, for clean water in our rivers, for clean water in our estuaries and beaches and to stop cattle grazing in our streams and rivers.

We marched for water and for our environment and there was lots of talk and fellowship among the walkers as they mingled with each other. Bayden Barber ably led us with his megaphone chants and announcements.


Many of the walkers were deeply concerned and couldn't understand how we could send fresh water overseas whilst we struggled to supply fresh drinking water to many of our own homes in the region.

We were told that the water that caused the recent crisis in Havelock North did not come from the Tuki Tuki river.

But we have also been told that there is no doubt that the river does feed the Havelock aquifer but it takes a long time to cross those paddocks underground.

So while it may not be the reason for today's crisis, it does not mean that this couldn't happen some time in the future, in 10 years, or 20 years or 50 years that polluted water from the Tuki will reach our aquifer.

I expect it will, despite the cleansing effects of the soil, if we continue to pollute our river which is already under enormous stress from years of abuse.

So this is, of course, the big question for all of us. The Ruataniwha dam will encourage even more intensive industrialised farming in Central HB.

In fact the dam's very survival and profitability depends on much more intensive farming in this catchment.

Can we trust the promoters' assurance that this activity will not increase the pollution in the river?


Our confidence in this happening in a responsible manner has not improved by the issues arising from some of the cattle feedlots along the Tuki Tuki river.

Cheap grain prices and a strong beef market have helped the explosion of this intensive farming system and some of the results were well documented last week.

In many instances they are a disgrace and I would like to remind those farmers who are using these intensive feedlots close to the river and the farmers who are still grazing cattle in the river that the Tuki Tuki is not a drain to wash away their waste.

It's our river, it belongs to all of us and we want to be able to swim in it and, yes, even eventually drink it.

It is also makes me mad that the official business plan that underpinned the economic argument for the Ruataniwha dam has 9000ha of new diary farms in the model.

This is approximately 30 per cent of the projected new revenue from the scheme. And, 8000ha of this is projected to be on light soils (shallow soils on gravel over the Ruataniwha aquifer) which is simply madness but that's what the plan states. And that's what five HBRC councillors voted for.

Farmers in Central HB tell me that this will never happen for a raft of reason so why did our much-lauded farm consultant put it in to the plan?

Even these farmers agree that 8000ha of dairy cows on light soils over the Ruataniwha aquifer is environmental and economic lunacy.

But besides that, Fonterra don't send any of its products through our port, so why would we support this industry with a ratepayer subsidy.

The Napier Port will be used as security for borrowings to help fund the dividend for the $80m invested in the dam?

Who in the private sector would do a deal like that?

As if all this isn't bad enough, I think it will be a very long time before this project will make any money for its investors, which at the moment is just us.

It certainly doesn't break even at the 40 million cubic metres of water condition precedent figure that council just voted on.

It's a difficult challenge, we want our good farmers to prosper and we want them to have access to irrigation water - but we don't want more pollution in our rivers.

We can do this together and we need to do it in harmony with our environment but I don't think this dam is the answer.

- Rex Graham is a Hawke's Bay Regional councillor and is standing for re-election in the upcoming local government elections.

- Views expressed here are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's. Email: editor@hbtoday.co.nz