Fresh water is Hawke's Bay's most precious and valuable resource.
There is nothing else that plays such a critically important role to the social, economic and environmental future of our region.
The ultimate wellbeing of our communities and our people depends on how we manage our fresh water resources. The very first priority is that we have clean, safe drinking water available for all of our people.
We are blessed to live on rich, fertile plains in the Heretaunga region and strong, clean hill country and productive plains in Central Hawke's Bay. We are attracting industry and jobs. The Hawke's Bay economy is booming and was rated last week as the region with the highest GDP growth in New Zealand.
We are a real economy doing real things. We grow some of the best food in the world – apples, pears, plums, squash, sheep, beef and deer. The list is almost endless. The world increasingly wants what we produce and our port is growing as the pride of Hawke's Bay's produce is shipped to global markets.
But all of this is at risk unless we secure our region's water. Our water resources are now fully allocated and industries, businesses and employers who need fresh water to invest in our region currently can't do so, unless they already hold a consent.
Our region's councils have unanimously agreed that nothing is more important to the future of Hawke's Bay than working together to secure our fresh water supplies for the benefit of all our communities.
Central government also shares this view. The Provincial Growth Fund's recent allocation of $30 million to support a package of freshwater initiatives is further acknowledgement of how important fresh water is to the continued success of Hawke's Bay.
I appreciate that finding solutions to the fresh water challenges in Hawke's Bay has been difficult and divisive in the past. But with this funding support from central government we have an opportunity to move forward together, united by the commitment we all share to secure the lifeblood of Hawke's Bay – our water.
Securing our water starts with better understanding what we have, how we use it and what future demand looks like.
The first stage of initiatives will involve harnessing the very latest scientific technology to develop aerial 3-D digital maps of all of Hawke's Bay's major aquifiers.
SkyTEM has mapped many of the world's acquifers and its work in Hawke's Bay will enable us to understand our aquifers, including how big they are, how much water they hold, how the water flows in, out and through them and where they may be vulnerable to surface contamination.
In parallel with this work we will also produce a comprehensive report on Hawke's Bay's water supply and future demand in order to support accurate long-term planning. With this report and aerial mapping complete, we will hold, for the first time, cutting-edge scientific data on our region's water resources and the current and future pressures on them.
While this work is critically important for effective planning, we will also continue work on tangible measures to boost water storage in Heretaunga and in Central Hawke's Bay.
Topping up aquifer water with surface water during periods of high flow is known as Managed Aquifer Recharge. This a fairly simple technology that is in use elsewhere and, based on preliminary work, is viable for Hawke's Bay. We will look to move quickly into a pilot project which, subject to rigorous testing, has the potential to be expanded across multiple sites, increasing the security of aquifer water in Central Hawke's Bay.
We will also look to store water for use when conditions are dry and surface water flows are low. We will actively investigate a range of strategically located, relatively small-scale water storage facilities, particularly in the Heretaunga region, to supplement water security during dry periods. This water may be released to maintain surface water flows for environmental purposes or to reduce the pressure on aquifer takes.
The $30 million of funding for these initiatives enables us to accelerate our work on the region's water security for the benefit of all of us – for industry, agriculture, tangata whenua, recreational users of our waterways and everyday people who rely on clean, safe water to drink and run their households.
There are challenges ahead. These are complex issues to address and there is no silver bullet. We must as a community come together around our common commitments and work co-operatively in search of a range of solutions.
I'm optimistic these solutions will be found and this support from government is a great help in building speed and momentum. Our region's future prosperity, growth and environmental integrity now depends upon how effectively we can work together in securing Hawke's Bay's fresh water resources.
* Rex Graham is chair of Hawke's Bay Regional Council