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What Dam Value? Flow On Effects Realised For Waimea Water Users

3 April, 2024

As the Waimea Community Dam moves toward being fully commissioned in the coming weeks, the dam’s value in mitigating the need for severe staged water restrictions for urban and consented users is being realised.

The 2023/24 summer season has seen a prolonged period of dry weather across Tasman, which eventually reached drought classification on March 15.

Even though the dam has not been formally commissioned, the release of additional water, which began on 2 March 2024, has maintained an increased flow in the Lee and Waimea Rivers.

This has been a tremendous relief for irrigators on the Waimea Plain - removing the need for rationing and having to reduce crop levels - as well as benefiting urban and commercial water users of council-managed reticulated supplies.

Tasman Mayor Tim King said the augmented environmental flows from the Waimea Dam had demonstrated the value in proceeding with the project.

“The ongoing dry weather is extremely frustrating and costly for many people in our district and unfortunately, forecasts for the coming weeks have indicated a long tail of dry weather into the autumn.

“We can expect that the region will continue to face dry seasons in the future. However, what we’ve seen with the initial release of water has offered assurance that we will be able to meet future water security challenges.”

Tasman Dry Weather Taskforce Convenor Kim Drummond said a recent decision to implement Stage 1 rationing for Waimea irrigators on Unaffiliated water permits - or those that had not purchased water shares in Waimea Irrigators Limited (WIL) - has come after that group had benefitted from minimal restrictions this summer, thanks to the investment of others and the Council.

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“Our data indicates that without the dam, unaffiliated users would have been subject to a cease take water direction by March 13, which would have still been in place two weeks later – such a situation may prove challenging to these users if the same dry conditions occur once the dam is commissioned.”

The flow from the dam is supporting both horticulture and the domestic water wells near Appleby that supply water to the combined Richmond/Nelson water network. Māpua, Ruby Bay, Brightwater and Wakefield also use bores in the Waimea Plains, benefiting from the recharged aquifers.

As of April 3, Richmond, Brightwater, Hope, Redwood Valley 1 and 2, Māpua / Ruby Bay have no water restrictions in place – which means that businesses can operate as normal and gardens can be maintained.

This also applies to Nelson residents living adjacent to Champion Road, Wakatū Industrial Estate, and parts of Saxton Road West, where water is supplied from the Richmond Water Supply Scheme.

Water users on Council-managed urban supplies and their rural extensions had been subject to fluctuating restriction levels since December 2023 prior to the dam releasing water in early March.

By February 27, 2024, residents in Richmond, Hope, Māpua/ Ruby Bay and Redwood Valley had moved to Phase E - when water is to be used only for emergencies, human drinking, sanitation, medical purposes, and stock wellbeing.

The augmented release of water enabled most urban water restrictions to be lifted with immediate effect.

Richmond Ward Councillor Kit Maling says the presence of the Waimea Dam would prevent future water restrictions which would have a widespread effect on the community and their daily lives – from the ability to grow fruit, wash cars, or employers not having enough water to run their business.

“We take water for granted until there is not enough – but we can no longer let the Waimea River run dry, as we saw in 2001 at the Appleby Bridge.”

Nelson Pine Industries employs 275 fulltime equivalent staff (FTE) with a broader reliance of around four times that number when factoring in logging contractors, transport companies and engineering firms.

CEO Kai Kruse said his company had experienced the effects of a long dry season when NPI had to scale back operation during the 2018/19 drought season.

“There are 1000 households in the region which depend on Nelson Pine as a business – if we were to have large scale water restrictions, we would have to scale back our production and that would have negative effects for not only Nelson Pine but also the region.

“We know this dam is good for the region and we want everyone right down to individuals to benefit from a big investment like this from now on, because it offers more water security to water your veggie patch or run your business.”

Pierre Gargiulo, General Manager at Waimea Plains-based growers JS Ewers Ltd, says water risk has always been a primary concern of the company.

“In the past, when it hasn't been available, we've had to make some really tough decisions around letting crops go to ensure we save others.

“Not only has this impacted our supply and ability to meet customer needs, it has a flow on effect, including reducing the number of locals we can employ and the local services we use on-farm. Securing water provides certainty to JS Ewers and the wider community.”

Top of the South Rural Support Trust chair Richard Kempthorne said having an augmented flow from the dam had provided a welcome lifeline for irrigators on the Waimea Plain who were otherwise facing some stressful consequences.

“Vegetable growers in particular had been facing difficult and expensive choices about reducing production, which would have reduced volume on supermarket shelves and likely caused price increases.

“The additional flow removed that risk, which is a tremendous outcome.”

Richard was grateful for the provision of funding by MPI to Rural Support Trusts (RSTs) so they can organise opportunities to get people off-farm to social events such as Drought Shouts, and to hear from rural professionals who can provide advice and guidance.

“Farmers and growers tend to be stoic and try to ride things out. This can lead to cumulative stresses building up slowly. Those that get out and talk with neighbours and others in the same situation often fare better and find solutions together.

© Scoop Media

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