Hawke's Bay Regional Council has voted to prioritise a trial of using water below the ground to help solve Central Hawke's Bay's water shortage woes.
It comes after a councillor's claim that it, and other councils in the region, were giving life to a "rotting corpse" by continuing to support a group that wanted to build the Ruataniwha dam.
Farmers in Central Hawke's Bay have been hit badly by drought this year and argue water storage is needed to improve flows for river life through summer and provide certainty for irrigators.
But a $330 million plan to build the Ruataniwha dam, a project planned as a solution to the problem, was blocked by the Supreme Court in 2017, despite almost $20m of expenditure by HBRC on consents and planning.
The Tukituki Leaders Forum, a group set up to discuss the best solution for the district, is now in turmoil after a decision by Central Hawke's Bay District Council to grant $58,000 to a group that owns the rights to the failed dam scheme prompted two members to leave.
The council's Corporate and Strategic Committee voted on Wednesday to focus its accelerated Water Security Programme for the district on trialling below-ground technology, because there are no "viable" above-ground options.
HBRC water security manager Tom Skerman said "every possible option" will be considered.
Skerman said the Tukituki Leaders Forum had recently considered the issue at length, with support from the Central Hawke's Bay District Council, but found "no immediately obvious legally or commercially viable options that warrant detailed technical investigation".
"This process has confirmed what our investigations have told us for a long time now – that above-ground water storage options in CHB is incredibly challenging and we need to look at every other option to improve the region's water security," he said.
"At the same time we will undertake further cost-benefit analysis of possible small to medium-scale [above-ground] storage sites before any final recommendations around storage in CHB."
A comprehensive Regional Water Assessment has begun. It will aim to provide the region with the first comprehensive stock-take of the whole of Hawke's Bay's water resources, including supply and demand dynamics and means by which to improve security.
"There is no single bullet for Hawke's Bay's water challenges," Skerman said.
Below-ground Managed Aquifer Recharge, small-scale above-ground storage, water conservation, alternative farming systems and land use change will all be considered.
HBRC councillor Neil Kirton said councils in the region and the community had in recent months put the Ruataniwha dam back on the table, even though it was "long dead".
"Our guests [from the Tukituki Leaders' Forum] feel as though they were manipulated and they were drawn into the equation to add some sort of community legitimacy," he told the meeting on Wednesday.
"You've heard comments from councillors around this table which continue to support and continue to cling to this concept.
"What we've done is not so much flogged a dead horse, what we've done is mouth to mouth to a rotting corpse. That's a reality."
Councillor Martin Williams said the council was caught between "this rock and a hard place", but should always consider the Ruataniwha dam as an option.
"The rock is small-scale storage looks cost prohibitive," he said.
"The hard place is despite every piece of analysis over a decade, the only viable large site that has emerged that is geotechnically competent, that is the right place topographically is [the Ruataniwha dam] and it's precluded by the Supreme Court's interpretation of a piece of legislation.
"I will never take the dam off the table until I know that there is some other way of achieving our objective of climate resilient water security."
Skerman said the HBRC was taking an "integrated, holistic focus" on what it can achieve to deliver better social and environmental outcomes for Hawke's Bay through the way it manages water resources.
"We are progressing MAR studies in CHB and intend to conduct field trials early next year. Notwithstanding its successful use overseas, MAR is a relatively new approach in New Zealand," Skerman said.
"So the use of MAR must not only be technically viable but needs to have broad community support, and we will be testing both in the months ahead.
"We are making good progress on our water security programme and will be in a position to hold an informed conversation with all ratepayers from across Hawke's Bay around possible options for development next year before decisions are made."