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Ruataniwha irrigation scheme gets 15 years to sort water

Ruataniwha irrigation scheme gets 15 years to sort water quality

By Pattrick Smellie

May 1 (BusinessDesk) - A revised decision from the board of inquiry considering the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme relaxes water quality conditions that were previously regarded as unworkable. It gives irrigators 15 years to find ways to manage nitrogen levels in the Tukituki River to very low levels.

The board's original decision, released last June, set a maximum level for dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) downstream from the scheme of 0.8 milligrams per litre, a level consistent with the highest quality freshwater bodies under the government's recently updated National Policy Statement on freshwater management, and at odds with DIN levels in the river today.

To get around that, the decision created an exemption for some 615 farms to discharge higher levels of nitrogen, leading to successful appeals from a range of environmental groups who argued the board had created a "factual fiction" by setting a high standard that would not then be expected to be met.

Some 10 months later, the board has released a draft redetermination, proposing that land use be managed "in a manner consistent with achieving a DIN concentration of 0.8mg/l by Dec. 31 2030."

That effectively gives parties 15 years not only to improve technology and farming techniques to reduce nitrogen leaching but also, potentially, creates a window of time for the Hawke's Bay District Council to make further changes to its District Plan in ways that advance environmental objectives without making agriculture unviable.

"We believe the decision gives us workable conditions and gives all parties a time frame within which to ensure that the scheme deliver on its positive environmental benefits as well as its economic benefits," Andrew Newman, chief executive of Hawkes Bay Regional Investment Co, told BusinessDesk. "I believe that ultimately, we will end up in a place where the nutrient levels are manageable."

In a media statement, Newman described the reissued draft as a "major positive milestone for the scheme", which would cost an estimated $265 million to build. The scheme is potentially a candidate for funding from Crown Irrigation Ltd. CIL is a government entity managing a revolving fund to help capitalise new water storage schemes where coordinated uptake by large numbers of farmers can be a barrier to schemes getting off the ground.

Infratil-controlled Trustpower pulled the plug on its involvement well before the original board of inquiry decision, prompting withdrawal also by the investment arm of the South Island's Ngai Tahu iwi. Their withdrawals, at the time, were regarded as making it unlikely that government funding would be available, since CIL will only get involved as a "reluctant" minority shareholder with a mandate to exit quickly once a scheme is established.

While many such irrigation schemes are targeted at more intensive dairying, the Ruataniwha scheme, on the Hawke's Bay's Tukituki River, would benefit horticulture and non-dairy sheep and cattle farming.

(BusinessDesk)

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