Ruataniwha dam scheme revival raises doubts in Hawke’s Bay

Central Hawke’s Bay farmers are excited about the prospect of a group of local businessmen trying to resurrect the controversial Ruataniwha dam scheme, but environmental groups are sceptical any new version would work.

The regional council spent $14 million, and four years, trying to get the scheme off the ground before the Supreme Court ruled last year it could not flood a large parcel of conservation land.

Now, a company called Water Holdings CHB has bought the intellectual property and rights to the scheme from the regional council’s investment arm for $100,000.

The company was set up by local businessmen Gavin Streeter, Tim Gilbertson and David Ritchie on 26 June, according to documents filed with the Companies Office.

It was still unclear how the new company was going to resurrect the Ruataniwha scheme.

Mr Streeter said the company was considering “several options” but they were not ready to talk about them just yet.

The group were confident they could do what the regional council could not, Mr Streeter said.

“We’re a bit more nimble, I guess, to really try and push through … to look at any option we’ve got for water in Central Hawke’s Bay. There’s no hiding the fact there are shortages and I don’t think you’d find too many people who don’t think water storage in some form is a good option,” he said.

Local crop and beef farmer Alistair Setter supported the idea.

“At the moment our water take is unsustainable in my view and we’re drying up the Ruataniwha plains and it’s spreading. So if we can get smart about water in our area it would be fantastic,” Mr Setter said.

Last month the head of the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council spoke about his concern over a major increase in the amount of water farmers may be able to take for irrigation from a Ruataniwha aquifer.

At the time Mr Setter also agreed there was plenty of evidence that the Ruataniwha plains were already drying up.

Federated Farmers Hawke’s Bay president Jim Galloway agreed the revival of the the dam would relieve pressure.

“You’d take the pressure off the ground water, it gives you certainty of production and allows diversification into other crops and farming systems,” Mr Galloway said.

However, Forest and Bird regional manager Tom Kay was sceptical there were any new ways to make the failed scheme work.

“There were options that were ruled out in the early stages as a result of sediment or geotechnical concerns … there’s fault lines all through that area … it’s hard to see how it could be adapted to go somewhere else,” Mr Kay said.

The regional council said it had several expressions of interest in the Ruataniwha assets but the offer from Water Holdings CHB was the only concrete offer it received.