If the dam is dead, as its opponents are claiming, we've missed a great chance to smooth the jagged edges of Mother Nature.

Right now, Hawke's Bay is sodden. A welcome but uncharacteristic (in the current weather pattern) wet autumn set us up to be wet right through the winter and that's exactly how it's playing out.

We've swung from one extreme to the other; as recently as February we were fretting about another dry summer.

Drought meetings were on the radar, river flows dropped, bore levels were historically low and grass and scrub fires were becoming common.


The Ruataniwha water storage project was an opportunity to transfer the current abundant water, from a time when we are sick of it, to months when we are crying out for it.

It's a 'no brainer' solution to many, especially those out in the towns and rural areas, but others depicted it as going to hell in a handbasket.

In the Tukituki peak flow after the recent storm, in just the two minutes it would take you to read this column, 132 million litres would have flowed out to sea.

Never mind the fixation on bottled water, that flow would have gone a long way to filling a dam for later use. Some folk just don't see the big picture.

During times of water stress, livelihoods are at stake. Towns are put on restricted supply, irrigators are turned off and industry is at risk of slowing, or even shutting down without water to function. In Central Hawkes Bay alone the largest employer of 1200 staff during the summer is more and more at risk of shutting down due to a lack of water.

As we see bore levels drop across the region the risks to the local economy is red-lining.

Last summer 200,000 lambs were shipped across the Strait to the South Island for better grazing than was available on our parched paddocks.

If this becomes the norm, the impact on Hawke's Bay meat processing plants, which employ thousands directly and indirectly, will be very bleak.


Multiple local trucking companies lose the opportunity to cart the lambs to the plants or cart the produce to Napier Port. The port workers miss out on loading the containers onto ships.

You see, climate change and the Ruataniwha dam is about so much more than 200 or so farmers.

Meanwhile there are calls for the ratepayers of CHB to clean up their act in regard to the town sewage treatment plants. The poor ratepayers have just had their hours and incomes cut from the subdued local economic activity but are asked to stump up for infrastructure costs. We can't have our cake and eat it too.

The land swap decision is setback for Ruataniwha but should not be its death blow. Of the nine judges this went before, five were against the land swap but four were in favour.

That's hardly a convincing defeat on straightforward law, so no wonder the Government sees a need to review it.

The 22ha that would be inundated by the dam has been labelled highly valuable conservation land and home to rare species. But DOC didn't quite agree.

Meanwhile the 170ha that it was to be swapped for included two wetlands and much more scope for wildlife habitat and planting.

The 22ha was heavily logged in the past, infested with weeds and included a former house site. Is it really unique compared to the other 8 million hectares under DOC management?

By preserving the 22ha we are giving up the chance to improve the flow of the 117km Tukituki River and greatly enhance that part of the environment. You see during the next drought and dry years that are predicted, the river flows will only get less. Regardless of increased minimum flows, when the Heavens turn the taps off there is nothing we can do about that. This is what really damages the river ecosystem.

We will see scenes like that of on Canterbury's Selwyn River, with volunteers needed to rescue stranded fish, eels and other aquatic life stuck in stagnant pools along the river path.

No matter how clean the water is, stagnant water sitting in hot Hawke's Bay sun goes green and vile.

For the sake of our environment, the Tukituki, wildlife and the prosperity of our hinterland, its farms and its towns, we must not surrender on the Ruataniwha dam.

Will Foley is the President of Hawkes' Bay Federated Farmers.