Farmers intending to buy water from the Ruataniwha dam are being warned they could be be forced to cut stock numbers to meet the catchment's strict nitrogen limit.
A decision is yet to be made on whether the dam will go ahead and the Hawke's Bay Regional Council is considering consent conditions today.
The council's investment company H-BRIC has sought legal advice from Simpson Grierson on the dam consent conditions.
Council data shows a large part of the catchment already exceeds the stipulated nitrogen targets, and in some cases is double the limit.
Simpson Grierson said if best farming practices were not sufficient to reach the targets by 2030, farmers could be required to take further measures, such as reducing farming intensity.
Forest and Bird lawyer Sally Gepp said this couild mean farmers had to reduce stocking rates, and they and ratepayers should be aware of the implications of these conditions.
H-BRIC said it intended to apply to its owner, the regional council, to change the conditions of the resource consent granted by a board of inquiry.