27 Apr 2016

Controversial dam likely to go ahead

5:53 pm on 27 April 2016

The Ruataniwha Dam in Hawke's Bay will now likely go ahead, as enough farmers have signed up to take water.

The Ruataniwha Plains which would be irrigated by the dam.

The Ruataniwha Plains, which would be irrigated by the dam. Photo: RNZ / Peter Fowler

The dam and associated irrigation scheme will irrigate between 20,000 and 30,000 hectares of farmland in central Hawke's Bay.

The cost of the project recently jumped 50 percent to over $900 million.

Irrigation New Zealand said enough farmers had signed contracts with Hawke's Bay Regional Investment Company, which is owned by the council, to take the water.

Farmers in the catchment area had until 18 April to commit to taking the water.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace has urged Hawke's Bay Regional Council to ditch the dam for the sake of the environment and the economy.

Irrigation New Zealand chief executive Andrew Curtis said a range of farms - including sheep and beef, cropping and about 20 percent dairy - would be irrigated.

An artist's impression of the proposed new dam.

An artist's impression of the proposed dam Photo: Isthmus Group

"The land-use mix should alleviate any environmental concerns for the Tukituki River," Mr Curtis said.

A court case still needed to be heard on a land swap proposal being challenged by Forest and Bird, he said.

Investors still need to be secured too, but he understood ACC was in the mix and he was now 95 percent certain the dam would be built.

"Irrigation New Zealand is now looking forward to both the Hawke's Bay Regional Council and Crown committing investments to this community dam project and the 'land swap' court issue being resolved in a timely manner."

'Still a very fragile project'

Green Party water spokesperson Catherine Delahunty said the dam had become a farce, and was totally reliant on taxpayer and ratepayer money.

"They've just scrapped in terms of farmer subscriptions - it's something like 43 million cubic metres [of water] has been allocated, they needed 45, and they're hoping for the rest.

"But it's still a very fragile project, because what they're doing is they're relying on, not only on the $80 million from ratepayers in the region, but also on investors such as ACC."

Massey University water quality scientist Mike Joy was almost lost for words when told enough farmers had signed up.

"Well I'm just staggered, I can't believe it. We know that 80 percent of dairy farmers are having to borrow just to stay in business given the price of milk at the moment, so I'm staggered that anybody would pay that amount of money for water when you can't make any money at the moment," Dr Joy said.

"But obviously they've done it, and I'm just blown away, I can't believe it."

Farmers will be paying 27.5 cents per cubic metre for water from the dam.

The Hawke's Bay Regional Investment Company said investors needed to confirm their commitment before construction could begin.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs