Background

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The very first Māori and European settlers recognised the unique growing capabilities of the Waimea Plains. Abundant sunshine and shelter from the harsh southerly weather, coupled with flat alluvial plains resulted in a wide range of livestock and cropping enterprises. Over time, the plains have changed from mostly pastoral farming to intensive high-value horticulture and lifestyle properties, with associated towns, settlements and industries. The net result is that water demand grossly exceeded allocations, something that became a major concern in the unusually dry summer of 2001.

2001 drought

In 2001, the Tasman district endured one of the most notable droughts for decades, with significant economic and environmental effects on the region. In response to the 2001 drought, Tasman District Council took action:

    • water metering and rationing was extended to all Waimea plains permit holders
    • a moratorium on all new water permits was continued, and
    • a new ‘holding pattern’ water management regime was instigated and incorporated in the Tasman Resource Management Plan (TRMP).
A new way to manage the water supply

New water management provisions in the TRMP for the Waimea Plains became operative on 10 March 2014. The TRMP contains different allocation limits, minimum flows and rationing triggers – all of which depend on the decision to proceed with the dam or not. The TRMP also provides transitional arrangements that apply until the decision is made and until the dam is operating.

National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management

At the same time as these new water management provisions became operative, the Government enacted the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPSFM). The NPSFM directs councils to manage water in an integrated and sustainable way while providing for economic growth within set water quantity and quality limits.

Revised water allocations

Under the NPSFM, the Tasman District Council (TDC) is legally required to phase out over-allocation. It had to review existing permits to set sustainable allocation limits as per the TRMP and notify property owners of the changes, a process that was completed in July, 2017. The new allocations go into effect when a final decision is made on whether or not to proceed with building the Waimea Community Dam, or on 1 November 2018, whichever comes first. Allocations in the new permits could be reduced by about 22% to 70% in some cases, depending on previous water use, and crop and soil type.

A community-led investigation: Waimea Water Augmentation Committee

A community group, the Waimea Water Augmentation Committee (WWAC), formed in 2003 to investigate options for improving the ecological health of the Waimea River and ensuring a secure water supply for current and future water users.
WWAC is represented by a diverse group of stakeholders including irrigators, iwi, Fish & Game, DoC and Tasman District and Nelson City Councils. After spending $6 million on investigations and discussions with the community, as well as much voluntary time over the last 14 years, WWAC has recommended that the Waimea Community Dam is the best solution to provide a secure water supply for the whole community.