Will Foley reviews the Ruataniwha debate from a farmer's perspective and under the overall framework of the IPCC warnings

Will Foley reviews the Ruataniwha debate from a farmer's perspective and under the overall framework of the IPCC warnings

By Will Foley*

RadioLIVE recently ran an online poll asking its listeners if they were frightened of climate change.

To the shock of host Marcus Lush, two-thirds of respondents apparently said no, they’re not.

I would have said yes.

As some groups are cock-a-hoop over tough consent conditions imposed on the Ruataniwha water storage scheme and others think them lax, you have to wonder if this public climate weariness has spread to them too.

What it all means for the viability of Ruataniwha won’t be known until the 700-page decision is crunched but what I know is this.  If the scheme does not progress it won’t affect Green Party MP’s in their air conditioned offices or the paid Wellington staff at Forest & Bird.

They don’t have to worry about the El Nino being talked about for spring.

They don’t have to watch our region increasingly turn into a retirement village while our young drift to Auckland or Australia.

They don’t have to deal with crime since Hawke's Bay bucked the national trend last year.

I cannot understand why some are so hell-bent on derailing a scheme, which gives Hawke’s Bay its best shot at adapting to a changing climate. Federated Farmers hosted Dr Russel Norman at the South Island’s Opuha water storage scheme a few years ago. Memories seem short unless you are a politician.

With a medium level of confidence the climate experts say that average rainfall on the east coast will decrease this century.

This will lead to lower flows of the Makaroro River, Waipawa and Tukituki Rivers. The International Panel on Climate Change warns that by 2040, the East Coast can expect to double or even triple the time spent in drought.

This is our future unless we adapt and that means new pastures, crops, technologies and even animals.

Above all, adaption means storing water like that proposed by Ruataniwha.

I will be blunt to make a point; the shit in the Tukituki during summer low flows has mostly been human. Up to 70 percent of phosphorous loading during low flows had come from the wastewater plants of Waipukurau, Waipawa, Otane and Takapau.

That’s thankfully changing with upgrades in hand while the allocation regime will put more water into the Tukituki during summer.

Ruataniwha could do more.

It could put a quarter of a billion dollars into those towns each year providing councils with the means to meet increasing drinking water standards.

This proves that the environment and economy are flipsides of the same coin.  If there’s no scheme, there’s no dam supported flushing and little additional money to upgrade existing plant.

Can anyone tell me the environmental win in that?

Is it just me or has the media and Ruataniwha opponents overlooked the IPCC’s warning that New Zealand is underprepared for a changing climate.  If anything, there seems to be outright denial since these groups seem to believe our rivers in 2040 will be exactly as they were in 2014.

It is not like the Hawke’s Bay Regional Investment Company got a muppet to look into climate issues and Ruataniwha either.  Victoria University’s Dr James Renwick happens to be an international expert in this field.

While dryland places like North Otago have been averaging twice their normal rainfall over the past five years, in the same timeframe, we’ve had three droughts and it is dragging Hawke’s Bay down.  Out of 67 councils in the last census, Hastings District slipped nine spots to 30th spot, Napier went back one to 31st while Central Hawke’s Bay District dropped to 58th - losing 1.8 percent of its usually resident population.

If Ruataniwha’s consents are so tough they are Clayton’s ones, then it will be a Pyrrhic victory for the environment. As the climate warms so will the waterways while the volume going into them drops. While that’s great for algae it doesn’t sound so flash for introduced trout or native fish and birds. 

While we can expect less intense rainfall we can store what falls and that’s the beauty of Ruataniwha and the secret recipe of our economy; just add water.

So is Ruataniwha perfect, probably not, but what is?

Do I have the information to make an informed investment decision?

That now hinges on the consent conditions attached by the Board of Inquiry.

Yet debating the principle of storing wate is a bit like debating the wisdom of sunblock, dumb. 

If we accept the climate is changing then we need to store water and adapt how we currently do things.  If you deny the climate will ever change then I guess you won’t be at the National Aquarium of NZ on 6 May, where NIWA’s Dr Andrew Tait is talking at 730pm on The Climate and Weather of Hawke’s Bay. 


Will Foley is Federated Farmers Hawke’s Bay provincial president. This article first appeared in the DomPost, and is used here with permission.

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Interesting and exciting to hear Will generally accept the wisdom of the IPCC. As for 2/3 not being worried, 45% of Americans believe the earth was created in 7 days. People simply do not read!
As a non expert townie I can generally accept the wisdom of water storage. However it seems dumb to store water and then mindlessly use it to produce a nutrient load which will some time later cause big problems.
Have you done some modelling of this at Fed Farmers?
Would it be possible use look at policy around mixed use so the water is not used simply for intensive dairy. Maybe a 50/50 horticultural / argicultural mix?

"It could put a quarter of a billion dollars into those towns each year providing councils with the means to meet increasing drinking water standards.
This proves that the environment and economy are flipsides of the same coin.  If there’s no scheme, there’s no dam supported flushing and little additional money to upgrade existing plant.
Can anyone tell me the environmental win in that?"
Or you could take the 'economy' and go shove it and watch the environment slowly revert to some sort of balance closer to pre-human interventions. You might even find that there is clean drinking water there one day in the future.

The problem with the dam is that it cannot do what the council has promised. The cost of water is .46c an M3 and a ratepayer subsidy brings it back to .26c an M3, on present costs, if it blows out farmers won't be able to pay.
 Schemes in Australia are causing hardship at .11 c a M3.
 Most farmers in the area simply cannot afford 26c an M3. A dairy farmer told me his cost of water last year would have been over 660k.
 There is doubt in many farmers heads, the water flows could not suffiecient to provide regular irrigation supply, numbers have been averaged so half the time there won't be and in the wet years when you don't need it, you get to pay for the water, 'use it of not'. 
 New nutrient caps limits finish the scheme off.
  Its time Federated farmers started representing their members and not just follow along with National party policy.
 The numbers are having to be crunched by people working unpaid and then they find they get shut down at every turn.
 Farmers have to pay for water in advance and the economics are bloody awful.

So it's kind of like 'think big'? But with not so much 'think'.
$660k for one year of irrigation on one farm (I assume this for just the water, not the on-farm infrastructure?) sounds exhorbitant. I would be interested to know in this example what the water bill would have been in a wet year with not so much water being drawn on?

Hamish, I think you missed Andrew's point - you pay regardless except for a pumping charge that is 3 cents out of the 26 cents. If in a wet year you didn't use any water you would still be paying $584,000.
Twelve monthly payments of $49,000 starting in the June month prior to use.
But the bit that might really upset is paying the full amount in a dry year and only getting 70% of the amount you paid for.

Thanks Colin, that's exactly what I was wondering about i.e. what the fixed charge is in this example.
Is the dam proposal causing much problems in terms of farms that were being lined up to go to sale in Hawkes Bay? Surely the uncertainty would be causing some headaches with potential buyers wanting to know exactly what they are buying into and how this might affect valuations of farms in the region?

Will Foley seems to have a different climate change report than that which HBRC are using (SimCLIM) which states:
"Rainfall across the irrigation zones is projected to increase by no more than 1% by 2050...
By 2100 the level of increase remians less than 1% but reaches 2.5% in RCP 8.5"
So they model an INCREASE in likely rainfall not a decrease. Pity it deflates the impact of his storyline.
But the problem with this dam is that few seem to be dealing with facts.
Andrewj and Colin Riden appear to be the exceptions.

I thinks ita a misnomer to paint this dam as an employment opportunity and that it will revitalise local towns.
Local towns used to have thiving hospitals, in a time when an appendix operation meant two weeks in hospital, now most operations just require day surgery.
 We used to employ 6 full time staff on a farm thats now hardly one full time labor unit.
 I remember my father cutting hay with a sycle bar ,mower that did 5 acres a day, the new mowers can do a 100.
 New efficient cars mean people can commute further to work. And the very nature of work is changing. 
 All it would take is Robot milking platforms which are alredy here, driverless tractors which are also very close and even less people will be needed.
 To think you can create work via an uneconomic irrigation proposal is daft.
 Revitalising rural towns is going to take alot more thought.
 And if anyone thinks more jobs won't be going look at this from Beef and lambs latest report.
In the first half of 2013-14, the volume of boneless cuts exported almost halved, while the share of carcasses more than doubled, reaching 36 per cent of total volumes exported. These changes reflect a tremendous rise in demand for carcasses from China.

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