The Nelson region faces a critical crossroad on the decision of our two councils and Waimea landowners over whether to proceed with the Waimea Community Dam. We must back this opportunity to secure better water quality in the Waimea River, the opportunity to grow our successful horticulture industries and to secure the domestic water for much needed new housing.
The debate on this water issue has raged for over a decade. We have spent over $6 million on investigations, consultations, design and consenting. Capable community and industry leaders like Murray King, the late Nick Patterson and now John Palmer have put years of their life into developing this solution. We now need the courage to get on with it.
The problem is well known. We are in summer extracting too much water from the Waimea aquifer and river for irrigation, Nelson and Richmond water supplies and industry during dry summer months. We must either drastically cut everybody’s allowed takes or collectively invest in the infrastructure to store the huge volumes of surplus winter water.
There is no perfect way to share the $80 million costs but everyone needs to contribute. I have worked hard to help secure $40 million in Government support made up of $8 million in grants, $10 million interest free loan to council and $22 million on a concessionary loan to irrigators. The new Coalition Government is pulling funding on any future schemes. It will be a tragedy if we lose this Government investment in our region.
The Nelson City Council needs to contribute in support of this Tasman District Council project. We city ratepayers draw water from the Roding River that is part of the Waimea catchment. We are part of the over-extraction problem and need to contribute to the solution. There are also over a thousand Nelson City south residents and businesses that get their water from the TDC supplies from the Waimea. We also need to recognise that we all benefit from our regions successful horticultural exporting industries through the Port dividends to our council and thousands of jobs.
If the Waimea Community Dam does not proceed, the negative impact on Nelson jobs will be brutal. Existing water takes will need to be slashed putting many employers out of business. I worry for the hundreds of workers at a place like JS Ewers Ltd, many former refugees, who would struggle to get jobs elsewhere.
Water is the resource of this century. Our region is incredibly blessed with copious volumes of high quality freshwater. Our biggest problem is having too much in winter and too little in summer. Now is the chance to grasp the opportunity, build the dam and lift our management of this precious resource.