A new plan for water security is on the table for Hawke's Bay, but though it will revive memories of the Ruataniwha Dam, it will not be the rebirth of it, those leading it say.
Independent chair of the newly-formed Tukituki Water Security Project Mike Petersen said it has been set up to address two key Hawke's Bay issues - water security in the region, but also and restoring the health of the Tukituki River and its people.
A proposal to build the $330m Ruataniwha dam near Central Hawke's Bay was blocked by the Supreme Court in 2018, despite almost $20m of expenditure by Hawke's Bay Regional Council on consents and planning.
Petersen said issues of water security and the health of the Tukituki River, its tributaries and its people in both Central Hawke's Bay and Hastings were becoming more urgent, given the effects of recent droughts and impacts of climate change.
"This a project to do the rescoping of the needs of the Tukituki," Petersen said.
"This is not a project to rebirth the Ruataniwha. Not at all.
"What we have recognised following the last two years of drought and the impact it's had on the Tukituki River, is we need to do something.
"Which the is the next town that's going to run dry like Bridge Pa? Is it Ongaonga?"
Petersen said the group is made up of a small number of interested Hawke's Bay citizens, including sector leaders, those with commercial interests and iwi, and will adopt a "bottom-up approach" in trying to understand the needs of the region.
He said the project would reassess the needs of the catchment and make an assessment of how they can be met with a range of measures, including the potential for water storage.
"There are no predetermined outcomes and this is not a rerun of previous water projects.
"We are not looking to build a dam and figure out what to do with it after."
Environmental needs followed by people's health would be prioritised in the project, he said.
Other priorities include human health, job creation and supporting regional prosperity through higher-paying jobs, diversification of land use, and empowering adaptation to climate change by enabling higher value food production and processing
The group would also work closely alongside water security efforts being undertaken by Hawke's Bay Regional Council, including aquifer mapping and management.
The regional council recently announced plans to explore the massive expansion of a lake on the Heretaunga Plains to prevent Bridge Pa streams from drying up in summer.
The proposed water storage facility has been granted $5 million from the Provincial Development Unit (PDU) and the council is now exploring how the expansion on private land at Te Tua Station, near Maraekakaho, would work.
Petersen said it was important to emphasise it was still in the early stages but there had been a shared desire and commitment between iwi and the community to get it right.
"The Tukituki Water Security Project is at an early but exciting stage and we are heartened by the level of support and enthusiasm to date.
"We look forward to keeping the community updated as we work collaboratively to develop a solution that has water security and restoring the health of the river and its people at its heart."
Advisory firm Lewis Tucker has been engaged to complete the rescoping and revalidation of the business case for the Tukituki Water Security Project.