Over its lifespan, the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme has attracted its fair share of supporters and critics.

For some, the scheme promised a solution to drought problems which hampered the region's economic development, and placed pressure on water supplies in the Tukituki catchment.

Irrigation NZ chief executive Andrew Curtis said without the dam, "severe water restrictions" would be placed on irrigators, which could impact their livelihood.

"Why the dam was good was it provided the reliability of supply ... the dam provided the security of supply for growers to be able to guarantee the flow in the river, and the ability for those people to keep going with their businesses," he said.


Much of Hawke's Bay land use was "high value horticulture", which needed a reliable water supply.

"They've got to put storage in some way, shape or form if they're going to have viable businesses," Mr Curtis said, as the quality of the product - which would be impacted if the crop went through the stresses of a drought.

"The reality is, the dam would have unlocked a whole lot of new potential in that area. The question then becomes if not the dam then what, what else is going to be there to produce the growth for Hawke's Bay that's required?"

This need for business security was echoed by Hawke's Bay Federated Farmers president Will Foley.

"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," he said in a statement to Hawke's Bay Today.

When water was scarce, livelihoods were at stake, he said, as water restrictions meant industries and businesses within the region were at risk of slowing, or shutting down.

As well as impacts felt by businesses in CHB - from selling off stock, or producing a lower quality product - this would affect businesses throughout the wider region, from truck companies, meat processing plants, to Napier Port.

He added that regardless of increased minimum flows in the Tukituki River, "when the heavens turn the taps off there is nothing we can do about that. This is what really damages the river ecosystem."

Despite promoted benefits, there have been many criticisms of the scheme.

Greenpeace have campaigned against it due to the negative impact they say it would have on the environment, such as more industrial dairying and more water pollution.


"The Ruataniwha Dam was the poster child of the Government's nationwide think-big irrigation agenda, which is now very clearly flailing and needs to be put down," Greenpeace agriculture campaigner Genevieve Toop said.

She said the dam was never about drought proofing, rather it was "always about intensification and more cows".

"A near billion dollar dam that stores water to be used only during a drought was always out of the question," she said. "In order to be economically viable water from the dam would have been used to intensify farming and drive conversions to industrial dairying.

"There are farmers in Hawke's Bay and other dry regions of NZ who are creating profitable drought resilient farms without the need for costly think-big irrigation dams. Through diversifying their pastures and farm systems and decreasing stocking rates these farmers are building healthy soil which stores water in and of itself. "

The other major criticism of the scheme has been on its economics, which some - like agricultural economist Peter Fraser - have argued do not stack up.

Mr Fraser said there were "huge holes" in the economic case for the dam, from the price of the water, to the financial information used to "get it over the line" for the scheme's initial feasibility study, and its review this year.

"All Ruataniwha was premised on was large scale dairy conversion, and there isn't going to be any large scale dairy conversion on current milk prices. Given the prospective water price, it was just never going to happen.

"The dam was not economically viable ... because at 26 or 27 cents dairy farmers would not be buying the water because they couldn't make any money out of it."

Mr Fraser said for the scheme to provide a good return the water would have to be used for intensification - however this would mean farmers would become less resilient.