Two big dams and lakes are now being proposed to supply new irrigation schemes which will provide water to 90 percent of the Ruataniwha Plains in Central Hawke’s Bay at an estimated cost of $200 million – the biggest single investment ever made in the province.
The Ruataniwha Plains have suffered droughts in the last three years. One site is in the foothills inland from Tikokino on State Highway 50 and the other is further south, close to SH2 between Norsewood and Takapau.
Central Hawke’s Bay mayor Peter Butler says the dams will bring tremendous economic benefits. He says 200-300 farms are likely to benefit directly, and there will be gains for the wider community and the environment. The potential economic benefit has been put at $500 million a year.
"This dam is going to be nearly 100 metres tall, the wall of the dam and go back seven or eight kilometres – there's a massive amount of water there,” Mr Butler says.
However, the mayors of Napier and Hastings have asked the Hawkes Bay Regional Council to produce an independent economic analysis of the proposed dam scheme.
The regional council and its investment company have made applications to the Environmental Protection Authority on the project, which would supply water to about 25,000 hectares of land from a dam on a tributary of the Tukituki River.
Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule says the regional council is proposing to invest tens of millions of dollars of ratepayer money in the dam. He says both he and his Napier counterpart Barbara Arnott want to make sure the project does not place regional ratepayers at risk.
He says the regional council, which is driving the project, is considering investing up to $80 million of ratepayer money – the largest single investment ever in Hawke's Bay.
Power generation could be built into the dams, which would make the project more viable.
The northerly dam would be 68 metres high on the Makaroro Stream and form a lake covering 272 hectares. The second dam would go on the Makaretu Stream.
The latest proposals removed the need to pump water into storage lakes, and could probably supply piped water to farms under pressure. Water would be released from the lakes into the natural waterways and some of it channelled out for irrigation further down the system.
Council staff will spend 18 months checking the geology of the sites, ecological aspects and the demand for water from farmers. Twelve landowners would be directly affected by the lakes.
The chairman of the project leadership group, Central Hawke's Bay farmer Sam Robinson, said his community was "surprisingly supportive".