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‘Cut your dam losses’

By Beckie Wilson

[email protected]

A critic of a proposed Wairarapa irrigation scheme has urged Greater Wellington Regional councillors to ditch the project before more money is spent on it, labelling it a “white elephant”.

But those backing the project, which would see a dam built for water storage at one or two Wairarapa sites, say the scheme is not only affordable, but economically and environmentally necessary for the region.

They are also confident they will get the buy-in from farmers needed to make it viable.

Economist Peter Fraser, of Ropere Consulting, told the GWRC Environment Committee meeting yesterday that the success of Wairarapa Water’s proposal was based on a large water uptake by dairy farmers – the problem being they would not be able to afford it.

He said the first stage of the scheme assumed much of the water would be utilised by “irrigated intensive dairy farming”.

But Water Wairarapa’s analysis showed irrigated dairying struggled at a milk price below $6 per kg of milk solids – even if the water cost was zero, he said.

“[However, once a] water price of 24-28 cents per cubic metre is added, farmers need a milk price of between $7-$10 per kg of milk solids to afford the water.”

That that meant the scheme was “simply infeasible”.

According to Water Wairarapa, the proposed scheme involves building a dam at either Black Creek near Kaituna, or Tividale near Masterton, or both.

Water would be stored to be used for a range of options across the region, including the irrigation of up to 30,000ha.

Mr Fraser was originally commissioned by Fish & Game in 2016 to assess reports from Water Wairarapa.

Yesterday he told councillors that if dairy farmers did not use the scheme, there were “no obvious” alternative users, making the scheme not commercially viable.

The scheme was also likely to have a “highly negative” environmental impact.

Instead, he recommended the establishment of a “best practice drylands institute” to be based in Masterton.

Water Wairarapa was established in 2010 by GWRC, and is funded by the council and the government.

Project director Michael Bassett-Foss said he was disappointed that Mr Fraser was focussing on the project “being all about dairy conversion – it is not”.

“The Water Wairarapa scheme is about creating certainty around water availability, new land use opportunities, and promoting environmental sustainable land uses and practices,” he said.

“This will lead to increasing export of edible crops, vegetables, fruit and growth in boutique value-added businesses associated with high value locally grown produce.”

Information gathered to date suggested adequate demand exists, but whether or not the project would proceed depended on the farmers, he said.

“Arable cropping and vegetable will be the big drivers of land use change, as forecasted by leading farm advisors Baker Ag,” he said.

Greater Wellington Regional Council chair Chris Laidlaw said Mr Fraser was looking at the proposal from a single perspective – the projected price of water to farmers.

“[However,] Greater Wellington’s perspective is considerably wider,” he said.

“We look at this in the context of our overall water management responsibilities in the Wairarapa and our interest is in exploring the range of social and environmental benefits that a water storage facility can deliver alongside irrigation opportunities for farmers.”

These included augmenting low flows, combatting algae, improving water quality, ensuring town supplies in the dry season, and a variety of other benefits, he said.

“Mr Fraser is right in assuming that the project is heavily dependent on farmer buy-in, and on that we must wait and see.”

Information from Water Wairarapa’s upcoming consultation would be “invaluable in this context”.

Wairarapa’s regional councillor Adrienne Staples said it was too early to say what the council’s decision would be, and would like to see all information “openly and honestly scrutinised” in order to make an informed decision.

“I’m not raising any red flags, Mr Fraser’s opinion is an opinion, and I would like to see [it] scrutinised along with all other information.”

Water will be affordable

Water Wairarapa chair Bob Francis said he would “refute” Peter Fraser’s accusations that the project was “infeasible”.

“Our view at the moment, after all the work we have done, is that the price of water is within the range that makes the project viable.

“We have obviously been able to compare our initial estimates with a number of South Island schemes in various stages of development, so some underway and some in the planning phase.”

Later in the year, the group will contact farmers for support and ask for a small financial commitment to provide additional funding.

“We are now going through a consultation process with the four councils, and a major farm engagement process later in the year,” Mr Francis said.

“At the moment the project has been funded 50 per cent from the government and 50 per cent through regional rates.”

The work done so far indicated the water was affordable, he said.

 

3 COMMENTS

  1. The Regoinal Council seems to be driven by consultants these days. How many more millions of dollars do we need to line the pockets of theses companies.
    By the way the regional council is not answerable to the local rate payers. They just keep billing us.
    Going back in history a bit, when the Wairarapa electric power board study was carried out many rears ago, the result was that the only way the scheme may become viable was if the enviromental river flow was taken during the summer and a long section of the Waingawa river was dewatered.
    Nothing has changed. Once the scheme is committed to supplying water they will be looking to the main river during dry seasons if they arise.
    Actually come to think of it, on the one hand Greater Wellington talk up global warming producing more water in the rivers and the need for enhanced flood protection and capital works programs that go with that, and on the other hand there are going to be dry times ahead and we need this massive capital works program in the hills.
    So make up your mind Reagional Council. Are we going to have more, or less water in the rivers with global warming?

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