While walking down the Marine Parade, Napier last week against the flow of tourists, council signs caught my eye. "Talk to Us" "Your Ideas Matter". They reminded me of George Orwell's 1984 "Big Brother" and I reflected on the velodrome and dam, rejected by all but the vested interests.

"Have your say" was another phrase used regarding Napier Port. Many who presumably thought their ideas actually mattered made submissions but to no avail for the overwhelming majority.

Recently, a presentation was made by the CHB water user group to delay restrictions on their priority use of water (HBRC December 18 2018).

The impression from the HBRC discussion was that a few large farms were so important to business that they should retain their current water use for longer and also be allocated more water from the 15 million cubic metres "discovered" during the dam proposal.

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There was no discussion at all regarding the fact that use of such water to irrigate pasture is hugely inefficient and that the additional nitrogen and phosphate degrades water quality.

One hectare of irrigated pasture uses 200 households' worth of water per day (8mm applied/ha. 400 litres /household use/day). Imposing household restrictions ignores the overwhelming cause of water shortage and quality — irrigating thousands of hectares of pasture growing on inappropriate soils.

The original benefits of clean water in New Zealand have been compromised by farmers who chose to "develop" marginal land (soil and climate) for tax-free capital gain and now ask that this poor decision be rewarded by special allowances. There are options to reduce water use that are equally profitable and less damaging than irrigation but the presentation to council by the group ignored them.

Councillors Belford, Bailey and Barker asked good questions, culminating in one which perhaps should have been asked first: "What would the river think of this?"

Canterbury is allowing excessive levels of nitrates in water as farmers "transition" to more efficient irrigation, yet dairy production has already resulted in reduced river and aquifer volumes and increased contaminants, especially nitrates.

Simple economic reality clearly shows the costs of additional production rapidly reach a point beyond which the return is no longer profitable. That tipping point has been exceeded by many farms without any of the environmental costs being included.

The theme behind many council decisions is clearly more production and growth.

Most New Zealanders are now realising how destructive poorly planned growth of any type can be. Feedlots are still being allowed to pollute water in CHB.

A single "Olympic swimming pool" dump of sewage into the Ahuriri Lagoon almost three years ago from the new Parklands development depleted the crab and snail numbers and subsequently the kingfishers, herons and bitterns who had nested there. The whitebait had already vanished.

"Stormwater" dumps have been repeated and will continue until infrastructure upgrades are finished — maybe in time for the ignored sea level change to overwhelm them. This will be costly for all ratepayers but environmentally the lagoon has already been destroyed.

Maybe a proposed new ratepayer-funded swimming pool should be used as the "stormwater" dumping area to underline the short-sightedness of improperly planned growth.

A wastewater leak from a pipeline at Whirinaki was reported September 15 last year by residents (HB Today, January 22). HBRC stated that "closing the mill down while the leak is being fixed would be an overreaction." Correct, but only where councils' favour "commerce" over environment.

Decisions are now made by small but powerful minorities despite majority opposition. The Yellow Shirt movement in France is not just about fuel taxes but about the culture gap between those with the means to exploit or impose regulations and those who are struggling to survive economically and retain a community culture.

Meg Rose, in a precise five-minute final presentation to HBRC last year, stated that HBRC was no longer fit for purpose. In my opinion that is largely because council culture no longer aligns with that of the majority of people they are supposed to be serving.

Barrie Ridler has been a manager on dairy farms and owner/operator of a 5000 SU sheep and beef farm spanning 25 years. He's also a former senior lecturer and researcher in agricultural economics and farm management at Massey University.