Recently I saw a major milestone reached for the Heretaunga Plains. One that few people are aware of.
For over six years a group of about 35 stakeholders has been investigating, debating and resolving the best way to manage the land, waterways and aquifers of the Heretaunga Plains. This so-called TANK group (Tutaekuri, Ahuriri, Ngaruroro, Karamu) has consisted of growers, sheep and beef farmers, environmentalists, tangata whenua, DoC, DHB and territorial authorities.
Every aspect of water quality, supply and allocation was examined and debated during this process – irrigation, ecosystem health, land use and soil erosion, municipal and residential water use, stormwater management, drinking water safety, water conservation.
Tom Belford and I have served as the regional council's reps on TANK for most of this process, and we are very pleased to report that a plan reflecting broad consensus amongst all these parties – and having been approved recently by the Regional Planning Committee of the HBRC – will soon be officially notified for public submission and, hopefully, endorsement.
Such plans are always a trade off between environmental, cultural, social and economic values. But despite – or actually because of – the compromises agreed through this process, the resultant plan will advance the effectiveness and equity of our water management for all users … including the most important end-user of all, the environment.
Without going into great detail here, the plan accomplishes the following:
1. Puts a "sinking lid" in place whereby new consents for Heretaunga aquifer water are barred, to avoid exacerbating existing stress on the aquifer, while all existing consents will be reviewed and adjusted downward to reflect "actual and reasonable use".
2. No dams will be allowed on the Tutaekuri or Ngaruroro Rivers or their four key tributaries.
3. Water harvesting and on-land storage schemes will be permitted, but these will need to proceed through normal RMA review processes to establish their environmental suitability. And, if meeting that test, they will need to be user paid.
4. An entire new suite of water quality standards – covering nitrates, phosphorous, E. coli, dissolved oxygen, MCI levels etc – will be introduced for the first time. And wetlands are protected.
5. Soil erosion is targeted and addressed as a key problem adversely affecting both freshwater and marine water quality and farming productivity.
6. A new "source protection scheme" will better protect both Hastings and Napier drinking water from contamination.
7. New standards and controls will be in place for managing stormwater.
8. A programme to augment stream and spring flows (thereby improving water quality and ecosystem health in our lowland streams like the Karamu) will be trialled and monitored closely for effectiveness.
9. Higher requirements for efficient water use by irrigators will be in place.
10. All farmers and growers will need to either participate in local "catchment collectives" to manage their nutrient loss and soil erosion issues according to HBRC-approved plans, or submit individual Farm Environment Plans for review, approval and monitoring.
All of this new framework is based on best-available science and water use data, with recognition that over the 10-year span of this plan, even better data and measurement will emerge, allowing further improvements to the regime going forward.
Supporting this regulatory framework – which manages all water use in the economic engine room of Hawke's Bay – are operational programmes to clean-up waterways via riparian planting, erosion control and stock exclusion ($35m allocated over 10 years, including $5m from government) and feasibility analysis of water harvesting options ($20m allocated, including $15m from government).
In short, a genuine transformation in water management for the Heretaunga Plains and all users of its waters. Our waters will be far better protected from an environmental perspective, while sustainable supplies of water for drinking, commercial use and recreation will be better enabled as well.
That's the plan. Hopefully it will meet widespread public approval. And then the real work of implementation can proceed.
* Peter Beaven is a regional councillor who is not standing for another term at the pending local body elections.