Waimea Water
1. Do we need the Waimea Community Dam?

Water in the Waimea Plains has been heavily over-allocated. In the last few years, central Government has required regional councils to maintain a minimum flow in their rivers as a way of improving the health of rivers, aquifers, and their ecosystems. The new requirements are in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater and have been included in the Tasman Resource Management Plan. When these changes were announced, it became clear that Tasman District Council could not achieve minimum flows while allowing existing water allocations.

To achieve the new regulations, the Council conducted a bona fide review of water use and notified all consent holders on the Waimea Plains that their allocations would be changing (mostly decreasing) from November 2018. Some water takes are being reduced by as much as 50 percent. And still, there will be times that we still won’t have enough water to both keep the river flowing and supply people and businesses.

These changes are going to affect urban residents in Richmond out to Brightwater and Mapua because they are reliant on the Waimea aquifer for their water supply (through bores or Council services). Even though water restrictions have been required nearly every summer since 2001, it has been mostly irrigators who have felt the harshest effects. From November 2018 when all water takes will be limited if the river falls below it’s minimum flow level, urban residents will begin experiencing more severe restrictions more frequently. Expect about 50 days of restrictions on average every summer. In drier times, there could be full cease takes for some on the Plains.

New Zealand is blessed with an abundance of water. What the Waimea Community Dam does is store water during the year when it is plentiful. Then, in the dry summer months, the dam will release water to give the river and aquifers that minimum flow top up. If the aquifers – from which we all draw our water for drinking, washing, irrigating, etc. – are full, then everyone can have access to water year-round.

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2. Who is paying for the Dam?

Urban residents in Richmond, Mapua, Ruby Bay, Brightwater, and Wakefield and others who pump groundwater from the Waimea aquifer like industrial users, farmer/irrigators, lifestylers all rely on the same source for their water – the aquifer. Everyone who draws water from the Waimea aquifer will be contributing to the cost of construction and ongoing operations of the Waimea Community Dam. By sharing the costs, the Dam is more affordable for everyone. The complete funding for construction of the project can be found on this page.

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3. Has the Council followed any formal process to approve the dam?

Tasman District Council has consulted the community several times on the dam as a future water supply solution. First, in 2014 ratepayers were consulted on a proposed funding model and rejected it; the Council listened and worked toward a different model that would be a partnership approach. In 2015 the Council included $25 million in its 2015/25 Long Term Plan (LTP) and consulted on it through community engagement activities and a formal consultative procedure. Those funds were approved and are retained in Council's LTP. Once the partnership funding approach was formulated the Council put two questions to the community in November 2017: what do you think of the new proposed funding model and what do you think of the proposed governance model? Council received more than 1,500 submissions, several hundred of which were made using a pro forma survey. After days of hearings, Council decided to move forward with both the funding model and the governance model.
There are still several key pieces of work to be completed before a decision is made. These include the outcome of the public consultation for Nelson City Council and Tasman District Council with the finalisation of their Long Term Plans, the construction tender price being known, the lenders (CIIL) having completed due diligence, and all the legal and contractual matters being completed.

See the news section for the latest on Council’s decision making process.

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4. Why is the Council pursuing a Local Bill?

Crown conservation land located in the Mount Richmond Forest Park and administered by the Department of Conservation makes up part of the land the Council needs to build the dam reservoir.

DOC has advised the Council the previously-agreed method for transferring ownership of these 9.6 hectares through the Public Works Act is no longer available. DOC has recommended a Local Bill as the best option for securing the land.

Without this piece of land, the dam would be much smaller, and not economically viable. The cost of the dam is concentrated in the base of the structure and a larger base means a larger reservoir at the top of the structure to hold more water. The current project is aiming to hold 13 million cubic metres, which would supply for our region for 100 years and make economic sense.

The Council agreed to draft the Local Bill at a meeting in May 2018 and submitted it in August. Hearings were held in October and it could take until early 2019 for the bill to make its way through Parliament.

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5. Can we solve the problem by being more efficient with our water use, such as using rainwater tanks and greywater recycling?

Analysts have studied the benefits that could be achieved by greater water conservation efforts. Yes, there are savings to be made with rainwater harvesting or greywater recycling, but the fact is they will not by themselves be enough to solve the region’s water problems.

It’s really important to note that water conservation efforts won’t improve the situation with the Waimea River’s low in summer, something the Council is obligated by law to improve, monitor, and maintain.

Individual efforts to conserve and more wisely use water are always good efforts because, as we are learning through this process and through our summer droughts, water is one of the precious resources. The Waimea Community Dam’s entire function is to capture the water we get in abundance most of the year, store it, and then use it when we need it.

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6. The dam is proposed to sit on an earthquake fault, why are you building it there?

The proposed location for the dam is in the area of three known faults, the Waimea Flaxmore Fault System, the Wairau Fault, and the Alpine Fault. Several reports have been commissioned to provide design engineers the information they required to design a dam to meet the latest guidelines, the 2015 New Zealand Dam Safety Guidelines. Further analysis includes additional lessons from the Kaikoura earthquake aftermath. The bottom line is that concrete faced rockfill dams of the type proposed for the Lee River site provide very high levels of resilience to seismic loading. Relative to other dam types, there are several characteristics of the proposed dam design that make it intrinsically very stable. Read the seismic reports by clicking here.

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7. Won’t all the water flowing down the river from the dam just flow out to sea?

Let’s have former Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Morgan Williams answer this question:

“You don’t keep a river alive unless the water is flowing through it. With a dam, it allows you keep the river flowing, keep the river alive, keep it healthy. And also keep the aquifers topped up. Rivers by definition, if they are going to stay healthy, they need to keep flowing and some of the water, of course, goes out to sea.” Back to top