It will be a tragedy for the Nelson region if the Waimea Community Dam project falls over after 18 years and $8m worth of investigation and design.
We are tantalizingly close to delivering a solution to one of the region’s most difficult long term problems over water. We have full resource consents and Environment Court approval. We have a Bill and the parliamentary support to resolve the issue of land access. We have commitments to over $60m of funding from Government and horticulturalists.
The big gains from this project are environmental and economic. It will enable the minimum flows in summer in the Waimea River to be lifted five-fold and fully meet the national standards for water quality. It will also enable another 1200 ha of horticulture creating more wealth and jobs. It will help support the growth of housing on the Waimea Plains where the population has doubled from 10,000 to 20,000 in my time as MP. It will also make our region more resilient to climate change.
The difficulty with big infrastructure projects is how to fairly share the costs. There is no magic formula, but they are much less when we do it together. The cost of dam storage is $8 per cubic metre. Farm storage ponds cost $50 per cubic metre and home storm water storage tanks cost $250 per cubic metre. We are all better off if we work together on a solution.
The claims ratepayers are subsidising irrigators are false. Waimea Irrigators are putting up over $40m. The real issue is how to fund the share of the dam being used to increase summer flows and improve river health. We all want cleaner rivers and we all need to help fund this.
The costs to homeowners of an average of $150 a year in Richmond and Brightwater and $30 a year in Motueka and Golden Bay is not excessive for a clean river and secure water supply. Councillors claiming this cost will force people to sell up their homes are not credible.
I do cringe when the Green Party says the region needs to switch to different crops. Hops, grapes, apples and berry fruit are part of Nelson’s identity as well as the foundations of our economy. I am not prepared to sacrifice them on some sort of ideological green altar. Nelson has an abundance of water and we just need the infrastructure to better manage it through the seasons.
This issue is also about equity between generations. We are indebted to previous generations of Nelsonians who as ratepayers and citizens made huge sacrifices for the roads, pipes, dams, bridges, drains and ports that we enjoy today. The Waimea Dam is about securing a stronger future for Nelson and Tasman.