Water in the tank

For a long time we’ve believed in the miracle of the aquifer: a limitless and self-replenishing source of pristine water. But as our gastro crisis, chlorinated water and sprinkling bans have shown, neither the plenitude of water nor its purity is any longer a given.

Bridget Freeman-Rock29 March 2017

“People have got to have options. There must be a plan that allows for complexity; it has to have nuance, sensitivity, not be a blunt universal tool.” BRUCE MACKAY, HEINZ WATTIE’S

An intricate web of water issues  surrounds the Hastings/Napier population centres of Hawke’s Bay, from the confl uence between soil erosion in the hill country and declining fi sh stocks in the bay, to the correlation between surface takes and groundwater levels, to the interplay between historic solutions and troubled streams. To address these issues, a collaborative, stakeholder-led decision- making process, initiated by the Regional Council in 2012, the TANK Group, is on a ‘heroic’ timeline to put forward their recommendations by the end of this year for a plan change that would direct future water (and land) management within the greater Heretaunga and Ahuriri area.

On one hand, understanding the water bodies encompassed within the Tutaekuri, Ahuriri, Ngaruroro and Karamu catchments (TANK), and their connection to the Heretaunga Plains aquifer system, is as complex as untangling global politics. On the other hand, the binding question is pretty basic: how do we ensure enough clean water for us all?

Ko wai koe? No wai koe? Ma wai ra?

Who are you? Where do your waters flow from? Who are we doing this for?

The Ngaruroro is the lifeblood of Hawke’s Bay, its waters running clean from mountain springs in the Ruahine Ranges, nourishing orchards, crops and vineyards on the plains, and, on its way out to sea, recharging the underground aquifer through the shingle river beds between Fernhill and the Expressway. In the past this braided river traversed the whole plains unimpeded, from Roy’s Hill and the Gimblett Gravels to the Sleeping Giant; its tributaries fl owing through Bridge Pa, Paki Paki, Hastings City itself, and out to the coast, periodically fl ooding the Pakowhai and Clive settlements.

“The aquifer is not just an underground water body, it’s a taonga.” MAREI APATU, TE TAIWHENUA O HERETAUNGA

Over the last century many of these tributaries, such as the Karamu Stream, have been confi ned and channelled, redirected, over-allocated, and used as drains for urban stormwater. And it’s these historic ‘solutions’ that have created, by and large, many of the localised predicaments. While the water quality of the main-stem Ngaruroro itself is very good by NZ river standards, the Karamu Stream is in a sorry state, with aqua health indicators such as MCI (bug and insect) values extraordinarily low; basically, there’s not enough fl ow and oxygen, too much weed, sediment and nutrient. Similarly, the Tutaekuri River is generally ok, but its tributaries struggle.

All ultimately discharge into the estuaries, and both the Ahuriri and Waitangi are in poor condition. Sediment is the biggest problem here as soil loss in the high country makes its way down the rivers, along with streambank erosion, clogging the estuarine ecosystem with fi ne sediment and accumulated phosphorous. In the case of Ahuriri the issue is compounded by contaminants from Napier’s urban and industrial wastewater.

Within the TANK catchment, the relation between quantity (river fl ows) and quality is key, with debate centred primarily on which principles of allocation will best balance economic, environmental and cultural considerations.

Hastings itself sits fairly squarely over the confi ned aquifer (which stretches out to Awatoto) – this is where the water is deep and pure, protected by layers of rock. The semi- and unconfi ned aquifer beneath the plains is porous – it both receives and releases water through springs and other seepages.

In the past it’s been assumed that surface water fl ows only a ected the semi- and unconfi ned aquifer, which is why Twyford growers in the 2013 drought faced brutal water restrictions when the Raupare Stream ran low, whereas municipal, irrigation and industry water takes from the confi ned aquifer remained una ected. And why this summer, Hastings District residents face sprinkler bans due to pressure on overburdened infrastructure, while users drawing straight from their own access bores continue irrigation.

Currently there are no allocation limits on the confi ned aquifer, but the science now clearly indicates that it is not, in fact, a bottomless tub – indeed it looks to be fully allocated – and that all water in these catchments is interconnected. New modelling of the groundwater and surface water relationship reveals that within the TANK footprint, in which 85% of Hawke’s Bay folk live and work and from which 87% of our GDP is derived, virtually all water extraction, no matter the zone, ultimately has an impact on river fl ows and the overall aquifer level.

This comes as something of a shock, with the implication that we are all, without doubt, in this together, and will all have to shoulder the burden of limits in the future. The need for a renewed look at prioritising water use beyond the ‘people, stock and fi re fi ghters’ tier, and how we go about framing that, is on the table for discussion, along with prioritising strategies and standards for environmental mitigation.

At that table already, sit 30-some members of the TANK Group: community representatives from the primary sector, Hastings/Napier councils, tangata whenua, environmentalists and other interest groups, who are into their fi fth year of working through an iterative process of connecting up the dots, supported by sound science, as they seek an agreed way forward.

TANK explained

The biggest driver is a plan change that will determine allocation of water take consents, underpinned by several pressing factors: expiring water permits (with permits drawing from the Tutaekuri up for renewal in 2018, and 2019 for Heretaunga Plains consents); the government’s National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, which requires councils to set limits and water management objectives for all water bodies by 2025; HBRC’s own Long-Term Plan; new evidence of lowering water levels in the aquifer; and the community’s need for certainty and clarity around quantity and quality.

Once the TANK Group reach a consensus on direction, a plan change will be drafted and submitted to the Regional Planning Committee (a separate entity comprising nine HBRC councillors and nine representatives of Treaty claimant groups) for their review, who will then recommend it (or not) to the regional council. This process will include a back and forth of reviews and opportunities for public feedback – before it’s adopted and notifi ed for formal submissions.

HBRC’s senior planner, Mary-Anne Baker, explains the hope for TANK’s collaborative process: “If people are working together, the results will be more robust, durable, more inclined to succeed than the ‘Dad’ approach: ‘decide and defend’, then head for the Environment Court. The plan is only just the beginning of talking about what we want with the water. It’s not just about the words in the plan; it’s about the commitment to the outcome and the stakeholder involvement in the process. Collaboration allows for innovation and trust to be built up across parties, and the synergies of many minds.”

Baker believes TANK will result in a more integrated approach to water and land management, which is more outcomes focused.

The regional council, for its part, “has invested quite a bit into understanding the catchment system and predicting outcomes,” says Baker, modelling the interconnections, complexities, and management scenarios on a ‘super computer’ that links surface water and groundwater levels, calibrated by direct observations. The long-awaited model has recently been completed, and the TANK Group is now wrapping their heads around the science so they can come to crunchtime decisions on allocation, limits and management scenarios. 

She says TANK participants “mostly subscribe to the ‘maintain and improve’ state of water quality – there’s no appetite at all for reducing quality, that’s a clear message. The need for limits are clearly recognised, and water users are keen to explore innovative ways of working within limits; they’re looking for fl exibility and innovation.”

Allow for complexity

Bruce Mackay, senior crop supply agronomist at Heinz Wattie’s, with a good “fi nger on the pulse” of the primary and secondary production sectors in Hawke’s Bay, has been involved with the TANK group since its inception in 2012, and believes it’s the right process, although “difficult, fraught”.

“People need to take the time and e ort to understand everyone’s perspective” – there have been “lots of cups of co ee” – but the facilitated process has created a conducive environment for cross-sector engagement on a matter in which everyone has a stake, he says.

“The principle in the room is that we want to make this place better when we leave it. We want to maintain our position socially, economically, and improve our position environmentally.” The pathway there is where views di er, but “the strength of TANK is always going to be the sum of the collective.” 

The real difficulty, as Mackay sees it, is converting consensus into a plan, then the plan into policy, with rules and consequences. It needs to be a workable plan, refl ecting realistic conditions and circumstances. For instance, when river fl ows hit minimum levels in 2013, irrigation was cut o at a critical time. Peach crops were lost, about $1 million in Wattie’s revenue, Mackay calculates, not to mention the economic dividends that flow from that, such as jobs.

Glazebrook believes “storage in one form or another” is the only solution to water security, but thinks distributed ‘offline’ storage rather than a mega dam is the way to go. MIKE GLAZEBROOK, NGARURORO IRRIGATORS,

O -river storage

Mike Glazebrook, representing Ngaruroro Irrigators, understands the river intimately. His land in Raukawa has been in the family since his grandfather bought a block of the original Maraekakaho Station in 1910. They were one of the fi rst irrigating in the 1960s, and Glazebrook says fencing and low-fl ow limits have been the norm here for decades.

Given the reality of water bans and drier summers, Glazebrook believes “storage in one form or another” is the only solution to water security, but thinks distributed ‘o ine’ storage rather than a mega dam is the way to go. To this end, in 2000 he put in a private dam with enough capacity to “get us through a six-week event”.

Glazebrook’s entire consented river take goes into the dam, which is fi lled out when the river is at higher than normal minimum fl ow levels (above 12,800 L/s). “We continue to draw our irrigation take during summer and then when water bans come into e ect, when the river dips below the minimum fl ow of 2,400 L/s at Fernhill, we take from the lake.”

Glazebrook’s Te Tua Lake, which sits above the fl ats, stores half a million cubic metres of water, but engineers have advised him that it “wouldn’t take an unreasonable amount of work” to expand capacity to 5 million m3 – “far more than what I need” – which leads him to a novel proposal: “It’s such a sweet spot for storage” that excess could be released through gravity fl ows into the Karamu system via the Paratua Stream that fl ows behind Bridge Pa and then joins into the Karewarewa that winds around Paki Paki and into Irongate – these settlements all experience water issues, with bores and streams drying up in summer.

By “sending pulses of water down, it would certainly enliven the streams and relieve any e ects of irrigation” says Glazebrook. He’s “put the idea out” to largely positive response. “If the rules enable that kind of thing, people will fi nd innovative solutions; the river won’t be adversely a ected and people can get the water they need.”

Global consents

Over 50% of Twyford landowners have formally combined their water consents for the unconfi ned and semi-confi ned aquifer under one name, Twyford Cooperative Company. While water rights remain with each landowner, the global consent allows them to collectively stockpile and release water, giving a degree of control in summer, something they didn’t have during the 2013 drought. “Crisis created for us the impetus to look for solutions,” says Twyford Irrigation Group and Horticulture NZ representative, Jerf van Beek.

The Raupare Stream usually falls below the low-fl ow limit in summer, but through the global consent model, growers can keep above the 300 L/s minimum fl ow by coordinating their takes and by releasing bore water back into the stream without going over their total consent value. This has meant that over January-February, by full-time augmenting river fl ows, “We have been able to avoid three weeks of bans which would have been critical for our irrigators.”

With water sensory equipment reporting data in real-time to the web and HBRC via telemetry, the Twyford co-op “can see exactly who’s using what, how much we release to mitigate e ects, and how e ective that augmentation is,” says van Beek. “It’s not perfect, but it’s clearly where we want to head. It’s almost a must that this will have to happen.”

“If we continue to see summer lowering the aquifer table,” which appears to have dropped 1.5 metres, says van Beek, “then we have to look at how much we take. Personally, I do believe we have plenty of water, we just have to be more sensible about it.”

In his view, dairy isn’t feasible in the TANK footprint, and “we won’t mention water bottling”, but “horticulture can get even smarter: what crops we grow and how we grow them; we’ve got wriggle room.” And we should be talking about urban consumption, too, he says.

Van Beek was “horrifi ed” to hear that Havelock North has the highest water-use per capita in the country – that’s “shinier cars and greener lawns at no cost and for no economic benefi t to the community”. On average, a Havelock North resident uses 700 litres per day; the national NZ average is 250-300 litres; the Netherlands 119 litres. It’s certain that a lot more attention will be paid to urban water-use over the upcoming months, with potential municipal water by- laws also on the table.

A better living space for all

Environmentalists such as Vaughan Cooper, representing Forest & Bird, are interested primarily in water quality and the ecosystems.

They’re seeking a commitment to “maintaining and improving the rivers to a point four level [0.4 nitrate maximum] – it all ends up in the estuary, that’s why” – and a signifi cant reduction in sediment, as well as minimising periphytum (algae). “But we’re not just seeking to maintain what we have today, we’re seeking higher levels of quality because only then can we improve the overall ecosystem.”

And this entails setting sustainable water fl ow levels and regulating allocation so that the aquifer itself is not compromised: “Over- extraction leads to ecosystem failure.”

“If we continue
to see summer
lowering the
aquifer table,then
we have to look
at how much we
take. Personally, I
do believe we have
plenty of water, we
just have to be more
sensible about it.”

He sees reason for concern in the depletion of fi sh stock in the rivers and bay itself. “The fi sh disappearing is an indicator that something’s wrong, which will ultimately impact on everybody.”

Cooper says “it’s not just a farmer or producer group problem, it’s an urban issue.” He cites independent research that shows stormwater getting directly into the aquifer at Omahu Rd; industrial wastewater discharging into the unconfi ned aquifer, the Ahuriri Estuary, and into the Karamu Stream at multiple points in Whakatu, Hastings, along with Havelock North urban run-off.

Stormwater and urban stream management is a di
cult, ‘big issue’ area that will need to be addressed: how do we go about retrofi tting the existing system, and for the future, how do we manage for new development in industrial sites and urban subdivisions?

Cooper says TANK won’t have all the answers; further improvements may still need to be found. “Some of those rules are going to have to be aspirational and brought in over time… but it’s clear a step-change is required.”

He is optimistic that TANK will deliver in the long-term “a better living space for all of us.”

Rivers  first

Marei Apatu, of Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga, is more cautious. In matauranga Maori (the Maori wisdom body, or world view), the river comes first, then people, then industry etc. The reverse of the RMA model, Apatu says, which is “promulgated by science and economics…. When we get a merging of science and matauranga Maori, whoah! Then things will really start to change”, but that’s challenging under the current paradigm.

At present the TANK Group and Maori are developing two value-based approaches and fi nding points of convergence and overlap. The central values inherent to Maori are kaitiaki (cultural guardianship) and mauri – the “vital essence of life” expressed through the health, wellbeing and natural character of rivers and ecosystems.

This means taking a precautionary approach, and respecting waters for their intrinsic qualities and not simply as a utilitarian resource: the aquifer must have the chance to recharge, tamariki to swim in the rivers and streams, hapu to gather food from the estuaries, and there must be an intent “to ensure sustainability and security for future generations.” Tangata whenua are especially concerned with the state of the Karamu and Ahuriri catchments.

“The bar has to be aspirational,” says Apatu. “But I have the confi dence and vision that we can turn this all around. We just need the willpower.”

“The fish disappearing
is an indicator that
something’s wrong,
which will ultimately
impact on everybody.”

Water conservation order

Complicating TANK’s mission, some environmental, recreational and iwi groups, fearing a deterioration of water quality in the Ngaruroro catchment, have applied for the river to be placed under a Water Conservation Order, which would set a statutory bottom- line focused on ecosytem values. The Minister for Environment, Nick Smith, has accepted the application, to be heard by a Cabinet- appointed, fi ve-person tribunal.

HBRC has made a counter submission that the WCO process be applied to the upper reaches of the Ngaruroro, in the Whangawhanga-Kuripapango catchment, but leaving consideration for the lower Ngaruroro and Clive rivers to be made once TANK has completed its own comprehensive investigations and recommendations.

However this plays out, it is apparent that the status quo on water and how we use it will not survive in the TANK catchment. Water issues are being addressed sytematically, and changes will be made … hopefully with all TANK members on board.

Concerned about water?

Whether you live in Hastings, Havelock North or Napier, whatever aspect of water management concerns you the most, it’s touched upon by TANK:

• Do we have enough for ALL users – irrigators, municipal and residential users, bo lers/exporters, other industrial users (e.g. Wa ies)? If not, what is the fairest way to allocate it?

• Should we be storing water – if so, where and how? Who should pay?

• Should anybody be paying for water – bottlers? all commercial users? no one? • Is it safe to drink? • Is it adequate for eels and  sh and other aquatic life?

• Can we swim in the various TANK rivers?

• Who should bear the cost of any remedial measures … and how much cost are we willing to impose?

• Are we damaging our coastal estuaries?

• Are we damaging the ecosystem of the Bay itself?

• Finally, extracting from these points, do we have action plans for speci c hot spots or  ashpoint issues – bo ling, safe drinking water, Ahuriri Estuary, Karamu Stream?

TANK will begin rolling out information and options for addressing these questions in the coming 12-18 months, with opportunities for public engagement and feedback. Discussion notes, science presentations and other online resources can be found on the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council website HERE

Inform yourself!


Bridget Freeman-Rock29 March 2017

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