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DROWNING IN WATER ISSUES

Tom Belford29 May 2017

It’s hard to choose where to begin in writing an update on the multitude of water issues confronting Hawke’s Bay. Every part of the region is grappling with challenges involving water quality or supply, and the land use issues that affect our waterways, aquifers and marine environment.

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The Hawke’s Bay Regional Council plays the signifi cant role in managing these issues, but that role is based principally upon its authority to regulate activities – from farming practices to municipal wastewater disposal – that have demonstrable “e ects” on the environment. HBRC does not have the authority, for example, to set or enforce drinking water standards, operate wastewater treatment plants, or charge for commercial uses of water, like water bottling.

Given its regulatory role, the regional council often fi nds itself at odds with the region’s territorial authorities, as has been dramatised by the contretemps over the Havelock North gastro outbreak, CHB’s wastewater discharges into the Tukituki, and the Napier City Council’s failure to deal with stormwater and industrial discharges into the Ahuriri Estuary.

For its part, the general public seems somewhat fickle as to whether it regards enforcement e orts in such controversial matters as justifi ed protection of the environment or wasteful bickering amongst councils. And ambivalent about how much it will pay for water quality … a matter this article will return to.

So with all the public and private sector players and all the issues at play (many inter- connected) across so many locales, it’s understandably difficult to keep score as to whether progress is being made … and if not, why not? Nevertheless, here’s an attempt at an overview.

The dam

Of course the 800-pound gorilla in the room these days is the proposed Ruataniwha dam, as a fi nal decision on whether to proceed looms before the regional council. 

The council’s ‘cup of tea’ delivered several hundred pages of fresh analyses for councillors – and intrepid members of the public – to digest. But the fundamental calculation has remained the same – weighing the nature and scale of the environmental, financial and other risks the project poses, as seen by skeptics, against the promised benefits and opportunities, as seen by proponents.

As BayBuzz goes to press in late April, councillors have yet to complete their assessment of the review material. Much of this material is scheduled to be publicly released as of 5 May; but no formal process for public comment has been planned.

However it is agreed that on 31 May, at the monthly HBRC meeting, some sort of ‘decision’ will be made. That decision could be a defi nitive vote to proceed (pending Court approval of DoC’s authority to swap needed land) or kill or shelve the project, a decision to alter the conditions required to be met prior to any final council approval to proceed, or simply a decision to digest further and/or await the Court decision.

Place your bets! Each councillor will have a unique assessment of the RWSS review. My own assessment, in briefest terms, is as follows:

1. In essence, the RWSS scheme is a response to previous regional councils having over-allocated water takes awarded in 226 consents in the Tukituki catchment, exacerbating two ecologically- and amenity-damaging conditions for the Tuki: substantial increases in nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) entering the river, and diminished fl ows.

2. In theory, the over-allocation can be ‘fixed’ by pulling back consent levels (out of some 45 million now consented); by building a high-capacity dam, whose cost-justification requires very significant farming intensification, bringing a further escalation of nutrient loss into waterways and aquifers; or by otherwise augmenting and improving water use.

3. Farmers’ ability to manage their existing nutrients that already stu the river – let alone higher levels – is entirely untested. As is the new Plan Change 6 regulatory regime under which HBRC would attempt to manage the 1,100 farmers in the catchment, who are expected to embrace best farming practices.

4. Additionally, expert advice has not confirmed that so-called ‘flushing flows’ promised from the dam would significantly improve water quality, especially in the lower reaches of the Tuki.

5. These uncertainties pose a huge risk to the environmental integrity of the catchment, at a time when the latest government freshwater standards require us to “maintain and improve” water quality, not worsen it. Is this environmental risk worth taking for some other benefit?

6. Answering that question requires assessment of the financial risk to ratepayers and the claimed economic benefi ts of providing more irrigation water to 186 farmers who have signed the potential scheme’s water user agreements (as against another roughly 200 possible prospects who have declined scheme water).

7. At present, 42.8 million cubes of dam water have been committed. However, according to Deloitte, around 62 million cubes must be sold for the scheme to meet all its financial obligations to lenders and then begin to yield a return to HBRC. There remains considerable disagreement as to if and when this volume of water might be committed; however, the latest fi nancial projections indicate that the scheme would need to borrow against its projected income until Year 30 after start-up before it had sufficient cash flow to pay the council’s (i.e., ratepayers’) return on investment.

8. Moreover, the cost of the dam (presently sitting around $292 million) is still not resolved, and actually cannot be until final design is undertaken and then peer reviewed, taking into account the geotechnical risks involved, by an independent panel yet to be formed.

9. The reliability of projected economic benefi ts (GDP growth, jobs) is entirely dependent upon a host of variables, not the least of which involve predictions that higher-value production (in fact, much higher than presently the case in CHB) will be delivered in the future from irrigated areas. The current scenario rests upon modeled increases in orcharding and viticulture that practitioners intimately familiar with growing conditions in CHB dismiss as implausible.

10. And although the predicted economic yield is highly uncertain, what is not uncertain is that hundreds of millions of dollars in interest payments – on monies borrowed both by HBRIC to fund the dam and primary distribution, and by farmers to meet on-farm systems change and irrigation costs – will flow out of Hawke’s Bay and our regional economy. A banker’s delight.

Behind these brief ten points are scores of claims, assumptions and predictions that I and other councillors must pick our way through.

Put all together, for me the scheme poses much higher risks than benefi ts. In my view, the fi rst obligation of the regional council is to protect the environmental integrity of the Tukituki catchment, not protect and subsidize economic gain for those who benefi t from past over-allocation of a limited resource.

As we all look to a decision on the matter, are there five councillors who have a negative assessment and would oppose the dam? Most likely we have some who oppose, some who support, and some ‘leaners’. Stay tuned!

SEDIMENT FILLS TUKI AT TIME OF CYCLONE 


AND CONTINUES 10 DAYS LATER


ELABORATE WATER TREATMENT FOR HAVELOCK BORE 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Beyond the dam

The most significant water issues beyond the dam are: continued non- compliant wastewater disposal into the Tuki from CHB’s treatment system, safe drinking water from municipal systems in Hastings/Havelock North (and more recently Napier), water quality and security of supply across the Heretaunga Plains, and increasing deterioration of the Ahuriri Estuary. 

CHB wastewater The CHB wastewater issue has dragged out for ten years, from the point when the Environment Court agreed with two local environmentalists that more stringent e uent limits from the CHB treatment systems were required to improve water quality in the Tuki.

Fast forward to today and the problem remains, due to footdragging by the CHB District Council, questionable choice of new treatment system and technology by that council, and until recently, regional council acquiescence to this melodrama.

Finally, last November HBRC laid three charges against CHBDC for non- compliance. Two of these (related to Waipukurau treatment) were subsequently dropped; then in March CHBDC pleaded guilty to the charge that the Waipawa plant was non-compliant with respect to E.coli discharges. The case is adjourned to 8 June.

Improvements have been made at CHB’s treatment plants in terms of reducing phosphorous discharges into the Tuki. And now the focus has become the Papanui Stream, entering the Tuki downstream of the plants, which contributes as much as 40% of the phosphorous in the lower Tukituki River. Feedlots, the Otane wastewater treatment, and farming practices could all be contributing to the problem, which Plan Change 6 must address.

Clearly, water quality in the Tukituki must be dealt with on a whole-of-catchment basis.

Havelock North drinking water 

With an estimated $3.5 million now spent by HBRC, the Hastings Council and the HB District Health Board on their various investigations into the August 2016 gastro outbreak and the ongoing government inquiry, where do matters stand?

In a word: unresolved.

HDC of course has taken steps to provide safe drinking water to Havelock North, reopening Havelock Bore 3 after installing fi lters, UV treatment and chlorination – a level of treatment normally used for supplies fed by surface water. The water supply is tested daily for E.coli and weekly for protozoa. Hastings, Flaxmere and Pakipaki supply is also chlorinated.

Looking ahead, Hastings has proposed $12 million in its 2017-18 Annual Plan to pay for possible additional treatment, including UV treatment at other bores, possible new bores, improvement of distribution capacity, and additional science, safety testing and monitoring work. This would lift HDC’s domestic water rate by $29 to a total rate of $257 per year.

While all this is underway, official findings on the causes of and fault for the outbreak await disclosure in the ‘Stage 1’ report of the government inquiry, which was expected in March but is now scheduled to reach the Attorney-General on 12 May.

Once this report is released, the inquiry will move on to prepare a ‘Stage 2’ report on the “systemic issues” raised by the incident and provide recommendations for NZ-wide management of water supply – such as clarifying lines of authority and responsibility blurred in current legislation and potentially requiring all municipal systems to chlorinate drinking water. This report is now due 8 December.

Mayor Yule and others have raised concerns regarding the overall health of the Heretaunga aquifer, suggesting that water quality in the groundwater could be an issue as much as or even more than safety of the water pumping and delivery infrastructure. The implication is that if groundwater quality is unhealthy, that’s HBRC’s fault as manager of the resource, shifting responsibility (and blame) away from HDC.

Blame games aside, Mayor Yule, Regional Council chair Rex Graham and Ngati Kahungunu chair Ngahiwi Tomoana in a show of unity have proposed a public forum on Heretaunga water issues on June 1 and 2. An early planning memo says: “The purpose of the water symposium is to explore all the issues and improve the communities overall understanding of water issues facing the Heretaunga Plains.” Whether this will provide more light than heat remains to be seen.

In a further display of cooperation, the DHB and the Hastings, Napier and Regional Councils have formed the Water Safety Joint Working Group to address future drinking water issues.

CHB TREATMENT PONDS


KEY MEASURING SITE AT RED BRIDGE MEASURES TUKI FLOWS


TANK 

Stepping from the narrow issue of safe drinking water to broader issues of water quality and allocation across the Heretaunga Plains, one moves into the brief of the TANK group, as reported in last edition’s BayBuzz article, Water in the TANK (now on the BayBuzz website: www.baybuzz.co.nz).

I won’t regurgitate the previous article, but do emphasize here again the huge amount of work – both by the HBRC research sta and consultants and by the 30+ stakeholders representing all a ected interests – going into understanding the dynamics of water issues involving the Tutaekuri and Ngaruroro Rivers, the Karamu Stream and the Ahuriri Estuary. The body of work developed in the TANK process can be accessed at: http://www. hbrc.govt.nz/hawkes-bay/projects/tank/ resources/#newstank.

If you care about water allocation and security on the Heretaunga Plains, water quality and ecosystem improvements across the plains, water use priorities (including water bottling), municipal water supply, recreational use of these waterways, stormwater and industrial wastewater, protection of the Waitangi and Ahuriri Estuaries, TANK is where the action is. You can sign up for a periodic TANK newsletter here: http://www.hbrc.govt.nz/hawkes- bay/projects/tank/get-involved

 

 

 

 

 

STORMWATER AND INDUSTRIAL WASTEWATER CONTAMINATE AHURIRI ESTUARY

 

 

Ahuriri Estuary

This urban water body is regarded as a national treasure given its role as habitat for many native and migratory birds and as a breeding nursery for ocean fi sh … not to mention its recreational and kai values.

Nevertheless, thousands of tonnes of sediment stream in annually from surrounding catchments, smothering aquatic food sources. And nearby industrial and urban areas regularly deliver contaminants via their stormwater and wastewater.

Mayor Yule and others have raised concerns regarding the overall health of the Heretaunga aquifer, suggesting that water quality in the groundwater could be an issue as much as or even more than safety of the water pumping and delivery infrastructure. The implication is that if groundwater quality is unhealthy, that’s HBRC’s fault as manager of the resource, shifting responsibility (and blame) away from HDC.

In the most recent episode, Napier discharged untreated wastewater into the stormwater drains emptying into the estuary, blaming “excess infl ow and infi ltration associated with older parts of the city’s piped wastewater network.” Even without such (hopefully) irregular events, shellfish gathering in the estuary is regularly banned because of contamination.

As noted above, the TANK process and the plan change it will propose later this year will address long-term protection of the estuary. But there’s nothing to prevent more vigorous clean-up e orts now, alongside Maori stakeholders like Mana Ahuriri. All that’s lacking is serious political will and priority.

ALLOCATING AN ADDITIONAL $60 MILLION TO THE DAM REPRESENTS A HUGE OPPORTUNITY COST TO THE REGION 

Accelerating the efforts 

There are indeed other water issues – protecting our marine environment (including o shore oil & gas exploration), riverbed gravel management, run-o and sediment concerns when major- scale logging gets underway soon in the Wairoa region, and more focused eyesores requiring improvement like Lakes Tutira, Whatuma and Whakaki.

Addressing all of these situations – as well as impending new freshwater standards from government – will require signifi cantly more resources than the regional council presently has available. The council has identifi ed a series of six ‘hotspots’ where environmental improvement could be accelerated – Lake Tutira, Ahuriri Estuary, Whakaki Lake & Wairoa River, Lake Whatuma and the Tukituki catchment, Karamu Stream, and our Marine Environment.

Some will argue that the regional council over the past 7-8 years could have dedicated the $20 million spent on advancing the dam – to say nothing of sta energies and focus – far more productively instead to this broader environmental agenda. And that it is with enormous – hutzpah – that HBRC now asks ratepayers to dip into their pockets for $1.2 million extra in the coming Annual Plan.

SEDIMENT IN-FILL SMOTHERS AQUATIC LIFE IN AHURIRI ESTUARY

HBRC is seeking ratepayer endorsement for an additional $1.2 million commitment in the 2017-18 Annual Plan to kick-start these e orts, and has applied for $6.5 million in ‘match funding’ from the government’s Freshwater Improvement Fund.

Arguably, the regional council now in place is more determined than its predecessors to address these water issues. However, the problems have accumulated over many years and won’t be speedily fi xed. And they certainly won’t be fixed by some magic wand waved by the council.

The public has signaled that it wants more urgent action brought to bear on a host of Hawke’s Bay water challenges. A key test of that public resolve is endorsing the funding required to get the job done.

Some will argue that the regional council over the past 7-8 years could have dedicated the $20 million spent on advancing the dam – to say nothing of sta energies and focus – far more productively instead to this broader environmental agenda. And that it is with enormous – hutzpah – that HBRC now asks ratepayers to dip into their pockets for $1.2 million extra in the coming Annual Plan.

Moreover, arguably allocating an additional $60 million to the dam represents a huge opportunity cost to the region, given the range of other water and land use challenges we face with greater environmental and economic consequences.

Personally, I share that view … priorities have been seriously distorted. But that earlier direction was set by previous councils, not the present one. Confi rmation of a new direction will be settled, or not, in my opinion, by two imminent HBRC decisions – the vote on the dam, and the determination to fund a more ambitious and energetic environmental restoration agenda for Hawke’s Bay. I – and other councillors as well – would welcome hearing your views on these choices. Here’s where we are:

Paul Bailey: napierbailey@gmail.com

Rick Barker: rickjbarker@gmail.com

Peter Beaven: pjbeaven@icloud.com

Tom Belford: tom@baybuzz.co.nz

Alan Dick: alan.dick@hbrc.govt.nz

Rex Graham: rex.graham@hbrc.govt.nz

Debbie Hewi : debbie.hewitt@hbrc.govt.nz

Neil Kirton: ndkirton@gmail.com

Fenton Wilson: fenton.wilson@hbrc.govt.nz

 

Tom Belford29 May 2017

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