Dammed If We Don’t

Ken Polglase, now retired, farmed on the Waimea Plains for over 40 years. He and his family lived through droughts and rationing year after year and so irrigation was a constant concern. Here Ken argues in favour of the Waimea Dam and explains why he believes the dam is essential if the Nelson Tasman community is to grow and thrive.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that there was heated public debate when the Aquatic Center was proposed. Different numbers, I know, but still the same naysayers and visionless arguments that, with the passing of time, have proved to be without substance. There doesn’t seem to be too much criticism about that great public asset now. We should thank those people who persisted for what they believed in, often in the face of passionate and bitter opposition.

The Maitai Dam is another case in point, but thanks to visionaries like the late Peter Malone, the public now benefit from his strong leadership and determination.

The need for the Waimea Dam has not been brought about by ‘greedy capitalist farmers’ as seems to be portrayed in the media. These horticulturalists and business owners simply want to be able to continue irrigating with the water historically allocated to them by the Tasman District Council (TDC).
The facts are that there has been a historic over-allocation by local authorities with a lack of real information. Environmental standards now require higher minimum river flows and the region needs more water for ongoing growth and urban expansion.

Based on historical water rights issued by local authorities, land owners on the Plains have, in good faith, established multimillion dollar businesses that have and will continue to bring huge benefit in terms of revenue, jobs and financial security to our local community and New Zealand. If the dam does not proceed, the water cuts that will follow to create greater summer low flows in the Waimea river will decimate many of these enterprises. The effects will be far reaching through our community.

If the resource had not been over allocated, if the area did not need more water for urban expansion, and if the rules for environmental low flows had not changed, then a dam would not be required. However, the situation we find ourselves in must be addressed to ensure that our whole community will thrive into the future.

When coal mines, freezing works and paper mills are closed, whole communities suffer, property values plummet, unemployment skyrockets and people’s health and general wellbeing deteriorates. Without a dam, we can expect to see similar outcomes in our own community. Is that what we want?

Most land owners, while not enthusiastic about forking out significant amounts of money for a dam that is not of their making, will do so because they realize the rules have changed, and if they are to have a future, they need to commit to this dam.

It is wrong to say, “if the irrigators want a dam let them pay for it”. The truth is every business in the district will benefit from the dam. This whole debate is not so much about what we will gain from a dam but rather how much will we lose without a dam. This dam is about the future of the Nelson Tasman region, it’s about urban growth, environmental enhancement, sustainable agriculture and the ongoing wellbeing of our whole community.

Over allocation is historic and there is nothing we can do about that now. We all want healthy rivers with increased low flow levels being a new reality and we all want to see our community growing which requires more water.

Seventeen years of investigation, research, collaboration between TDC, NCC, Iwi, Fish & Game, DOC, landowners and Council staff have brought us to this point. We need to be careful that we don’t let the loud minority sway the not so well-informed majority. We need reality not rhetoric, facts not fallacy, vision not self-interest.

I will happily put my name with those who have promoted the dam because in the future the community will thank us for it!