The Latest From Our Ruataniwha Dam Campaign
Legal advice sought by the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council on the Dam consent conditions has confirmed that farmers who sign up to take water from the dam could be required to reduce the intensity of their farming operation to meet the Tukituki catchment’s strict nitrogen limit.
Excessive nitrogen in freshwater results in excessive algal growth and impacts on the health of freshwater ecosystems. Many parts of the Tukituki catchment are already well over the nitrogen limit.
Forest & Bird has been involved in a protracted battle over consents for the dam in the Tukituki catchment in the Hawke’s Bay. Although it was not able to overturn the decision granting consent for the dam, Forest & Bird was successful in getting strict conditions imposed which require that land irrigated by water from the dam should be managed in a manner consistent with achieving the catchment’s nitrogen limit by 2030.
However Hawke’s Bay Regional Investment Company Limited, which holds the consents for the dam, has taken a very narrow view of the conditions, saying that RWSS land users are “only a modest fraction of the total area above the measurement point and thus most of any reduction in [nitrogen] will have to be achieved by the efforts of other land users”. They have also said that due to the lag in nitrogen reaching surface water, “it is possible that [the nitrogen reduction condition] will not be triggered before 2030”.
Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, which is promoting the dam through its wholly owned investment arm HBRIC, sought its own legal advice on the dam consent conditions. The Council asked whether nitrogen limits and targets can continue to be exceeded as long as land owners are taking a “best practice” approach to their land use”. The advice received confirms that scheme participants could be required to take further measures.
“If farmers are already using all available best practice methods but nitrogen outputs are still too high to meet the nitrogen limit, this may well mean farmers have to reduce stocking rates,” says Forest & Bird lawyer Sally Gepp. “In addition to that requirement, the Council also has the power to make changes to the conditions if the scheme is not operating in a manner consistent with achieving the nitrogen limit by 2030. This is a belts and braces approach to ensuring the nitrogen limit is achieved”.
“We do not buy HBRIC’s stance that the contribution of nitrogen from intensive agriculture made possible by this dam is only a modest fraction of the contribution from the rest of the catchment, or that they can ignore their nitrogen pollution because of the lag in nitrogen reaching surface water. We are pleased to see the Council asking for independent legal advice on the consent conditions. Farmers considering signing up to this scheme, and Hawke’s Bay ratepayers who are being asked to help fund it, should be aware of the implications of these conditions.”
The dam’s backers still require consent from the Department of Conservation to flood an area of conservation land in the Ruahine Forest Park, which Forest & Bird says cannot lawfully be given.