Hawke's Bay has had continuous issues with water.

The ones that are of most concern include the continued extraction of water via the Hertaunga aquifer by Miracle Water with no cost, and irrigation schemes which soak up vast amounts, and is epitomised in the Ruataniwha Dam project.

Meanwhile, those who don't have a Chinese market to sell to, or large parcels of land to irrigate, are stuck with a water ban and dry backyards. I'm not saying that we shouldn't follow appropriate water distribution during dry periods, but the issue is perpetual and not equitable.

We rely heavily on water for commercial use in Hawke's Bay, and our tourist-inducing weather doesn't help.


And I'm sorry to say, it's only going to get worse.

We've had consistent records of global temperatures rising, and Hawke's Bay is going to suffer, environmentally and economically, unless we break our dependency on intensive farming. And we're not - the dam represents a continuation of poor investment and lack of innovation.

It is a huge investment, paid upfront mostly by the ratepayer with little expected contribution of the actual recipients, the farmers. The ratepayer is fronting the cost for a scheme which only benefits a certain sector. Ratepayers will see no tangible returns.

Legally, the dam is still in the Supreme Court over a controversial land swap, in which the Ministry has intervened directly. Economically, it increases our need for a vital resource (water) which is tied to a volatile market (dairy).

This was evidenced by a large number, 40 per cent, of farmers who seemed to be on the precipice of going under when the global dairy price collapsed. Cutbacks from Fonterra cost 750 jobs, and it was looking dire. When the market jumped back again, I breathed a sigh of relief.

Farming is an important part of our economy, and I know that it is a lifestyle. The farming community, in Hawke's Bay and across New Zealand, is important for us in many ways.

What I don't buy is that the market collapse "is a thing that happens". Must we wait on the whim of a global market, with bated breath? Perennial market fluctuations is not a justification for the status quo, especially when the dynamics of traditional farming, and awareness of the damage it does, is becoming more and more apparent.

We need a solution for this, before we have more frequent weather anomalies that throw our primary production into a black hole.


Diversity in farming is a crucial step. Solutions include "permaculture", which is a method of sustainable farming. One example is removal of the forest-destroying palm kernel from feed, which Landcorp and Fonterra has done due to political and public pressure. Another is simply pasture-based farming.

Adaptability in production to be in sync with global markets is another. One idea is switching to goat cheese, which is a high-value product in current markets.

There is no expectation that this will be an instantaneous switch. It requires government-led initiatives, and consultation with various parties involved. But it has to be done for economic and environmental security.

Think of it as a cost-benefit analysis if you will. The cost of the immediate environmental damage, such as nitrate leeching and importation of feed, has been estimated in the hundreds of millions. The implicit cost to our climate has already led to a $200 million 'gift' to our island neighbours for climate refugees.

Hawke's Bay has a lot to offer, and a lot that needs to be fixed. $330 million (projected costs of the dam climb as high as $500 million) invested into viticulture, tourism, preventative health, rehabilitation, education and/or other sectors would be a boon.

It would create employment and opportunities, far more than the two thousand or so the dam is expected to create. And it would not be jobs that would inevitably become precarious in the next few years, or entirely unsustainable in a few decades.

Our fixation on low-value, mass extraction of primary resources must end. It's unreliable, unsustainable and throwing millions of dollars into it is a wasted investment.

We can farm better, and produce better goods. We can utilise the land without poisoning our water supply and threatening public health on a mass scale.

We can do better, and that requires this obsolete and regressive dam to be scrapped and the money put elsewhere."

Damon Rusden is a politics international relations and public policy student at Victoria University. He is the Green Party candidate for Napier in the upcoming general elections.

All opinions are the writer's and not those of Hawke's Bay Today.