Hawke's Bay Regional Council must be feeling a bit sorry for itself. Pilloried for allowing the region's waterways to degrade to the point many rivers and streams are unswimmable, as soon as it announces a plan to start cleaning things up, people complain about the cost.

Despite chairman Rex Graham's belief folk would be in favour of an extra 5 per cent rates rise to kickstart the project, reaction on social media to the plan to begin improving half a dozen environmental "hotspots" has so far been more negative than positive.

Even though the extra cost will amount to only about $30 per household per year.
Funny how everyone claims to value the environment, yet few are prepared to put hands in pockets to actually protect and enhance it.

Sure, places like Lake Tutira or Ahuriri Estuary or the Tukituki River might never have got to the awful polluted state they are in if the council had been fulfilling its primary responsibility of looking after the environment on our behalf.


And, as critics rightly claim, there's little gain in trying to restore a toxic lake or a nitrogen-laden river if you don't stop the pollutants at source. Which means some form of land management regulation to control nutrients and sediment - such as is due to come into force under Plan Change 6 in the Tukituki catchment.

But while the relative pittance HBRC will be raising - about $1 million annually - is initially to design a clean-up plan that will require much more to be implemented, this is a new council with a pro-environment majority willing, unlike the previous versions, to put money where it's needed instead of into expensive pipe dreams like the Ruataniwha dam.

So don't shoot it for trying to care.

True, there will be justifiable tears later if source polluters are not made to bear a substantive part of any major clean-up cost.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves; until the extent of what's required is known and planned for, it's a piece of string as to how much we must spend or who will pay.

Part of the problem is that until now Hawke's Bay, like every regional council, has struggled under a lack of trained environmental staff to do the science, planning, and monitoring required.

It has some good people - just nowhere near enough of them.

Beefing up their numbers costs. The time has come when ratepayers have to bear that cost.

If people wish to assign blame, then in part it falls on the councils such as the Central Hawke's Bay District Council which have failed to properly provide adequate wastewater treatment for urban dwellers, and on the farmers (of all sorts) who have pushed beyond sustainable limits in intensifying production.

And also on the previous HBRC councillors who devoted two terms to blindly pursuing the Ruataniwha water-storage scheme - whose potential $1 billion-plus build cost and dubious environmental effects still hang over us - instead of addressing the existing needs of our threatened ecosystems.

Which makes it all the more arrogant and insulting for former chairman Fenton Wilson and councillor Debbie Hewitt to bemoan their fellows' efforts to redress these threats by claiming their districts - Wairoa and Central Hawke's Bay respectively - should somehow be exempt from the proposed charge.

At a time when the central Government seems to regard water as either a foreign money-spinner or a toilet for rural waste, perhaps Hawke's Bay can take the lead on water quality - as we have with GMOs - by cleaning up our own backyard.

And if we all have to pay a bit more to do it, so be it. Regardless of who made the mess.

*Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet. This column is the opinion of the columnist on a matter of public interest and does not necessarily represent the view of Hawke's Bay Today