FAQ

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1. Do we need the Waimea Dam?

Water in the Waimea Plains has been heavily over-allocated. Water restrictions have been required nearly every summer since 2001. Minimum water flows need to be maintained in the Waimea River for ecological, cultural, and recreational values. Recently, central government has required regional councils to do this as per the National Policy Statement for Fresh Water. Minimum flows cannot be achieved under the existing water allocation regime. Without the dam, more severe restrictions will come into force by November 2018.

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2. Are ratepayers subsidising private irrigators?

Urban water users, industrial users, farmer/irrigators, lifestylers, and others who pump groundwater from the Waimea aquifer rely on the same source of water – the aquifer.

A lot of work has been undertaken to ensure the Dam has a funding model in which everyone contributes. In the proposed model, Waimea Plains’ irrigators are responsible for almost half the cost of the dam. The Council is assisting irrigators to fund these costs by providing credit support.

Tasman District Council and Nelson City Council (to be confirmed) between them will contribute 40% of the capital costs. This funding will help secure the urban water supply for a growing population. Importantly, it also pays for improvements to the health and water flow levels of the Waimea River.

The Ministry for the Environment has granted $7 million toward the Dam’s costs as well, which pays for improvements to the river’s health. The Waimea Community Dam is the only solution to our water supply and river health problems that includes sharing costs and leverages private investment.

By sharing the costs, the Dam is more affordable for everyone.

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3. Who decides if the Dam goes ahead?

Tasman District Council has already confirmed a contribution of up to $26.8 million for the Dam. It is currently consulting with the community on the governing structure for the Dam and how Council will fund its overall contribution. The final decisions will be made by Council after the consultation phase has been completed.

The Council will decide whether to support the governance and funding proposal being consulted on at the moment in late February 2018. There will still be several other key pieces of work that will need to be completed before a final go/no go decision is made.

These key work streams will come together in May 2018, when the final decision by all parties will be made. Those include the outcome of the public consultation, the capital raising by WIL, the construction tender price being known, and the lenders (CIIL) having completed due diligence, and all the legal and contractual matters being completed.

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4. Are the cost estimates for the Dam accurate?

The current cost estimates for the construction of the Dam have been through a robust peer review. The base cost estimate for the Dam construction is $50m. On top of that there is $13.5m included in the project estimate for changes in scope and unexpected cost increases. This raises the level of confidence in the estimate to a very high level - there is only a 5% probability that the costs will exceed the $63.6m budgeted and a 95% probability the project will come in on or below budget. That level of confidence is far higher than the typical estimates you might see in other construction projects.

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5. Can Tasman District Council afford to pay for the Dam?

Tasman District Council and Nelson City Council (TBC) between them will contribute 40% of the capital costs. The balance is coming from the Freshwater Improvement Fund ($7m) and irrigators. In order to make the Dam more affordable, the Council has agreed to provide credit support to irrigators who need to borrow up to $25m through CIIL.

The irrigator contribution to the Dam makes it much more affordable to ratepayers. The Council can fund its share of the project and stay within the fiscal envelope set in its financial strategy. Current estimates by Council indicate this project, along with other Council projects, can fit within its overall borrowing limit of $200 million and within its limits on future rates increases.

Tasman District and Nelson City’s contributions, along with the $7m Freshwater Improvement Fund grant, would also pay for the environmental, recreational, social and cultural benefits that flow from the project for the region.

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6. Can we solve the problem by being more efficient with our water use?

Council staff and other external analysts have studied the benefits which could be achieved by greater water conservation efforts. While there are savings to be made with such efforts, they will not in themselves be enough to solve the region’s water problems. Also, water conservation efforts will not help improve the minimum flows in the Waimea River, which is a crucial problem the Council needs to address.

The Waimea Community Dam captures rainwater run-off in wetter periods, and recharges the Waimea aquifer and Waimea River in dryer times. It is designed to supplement individual efforts to conserve and more wisely use water – a precious resource for all of us.

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7. Will the dam impact water quality and swimming sites?

The water to be released by the Dam will be higher quality than water flowing from other dams in the area because of its geological foundation. The Dam will sit on a particularly good base of stable rock and there are lower levels of organic matter in the water of the reservoir. (The Maitai Reservoir has a different geological foundation that affects the stored water differently.)

The Dam will also improve water quality and swimming sites by maintaining regular flows that flush water through the system. The minimum flow rate of the river will mean the river is healthier and better able to be used and enjoyed by recreational users, and it will be a healthier environment for aquatic life.

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8. How will the dam affect river habitat?

The Dam will submerge some river and riparian habitat, but these will be replaced by new lake habitat. The resource and environmental consents for the Dam require regular monitoring of water quality levels as well as restoration and re-establishment of various native plant-life in the area.

The Dam is located in the best possible place. The upper Lee Valley has a rock foundation feature which makes it perfect for building a Dam on, with limited risk to the environment.

Because the Dam interacts with the Waimea aquifers in a particular way, it enables the efficient recharge of underground water on a regular basis while still protecting the environmentally beneficial flows of water in the river itself.

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9. Some people are saying water on the Waimea Plains is over-allocated. Others are saying it isn’t. What is over-allocation?

Andrew Fenemor, a senior scientist at Landcare Research with over 35 years’ experience in hydrological research, water resource investigations and catchment management, says we need to define ‘over-allocation’ in the context of the Waimea Plains.

“Over-allocation in terms of the issues of water supply for the Waimea Plains means there is an unacceptable security of supply for current water users – urban and rural – when we factor the minimum flow required by the Waimea River,” he says. “Our community, through the council, is required to care for the river’s ecological, recreational, and cultural values. We cannot meet that obligation at current levels of water allocated the community and businesses without massive restrictions in water usage most summers. Something will have to change.”

Read more about the health of the river and how the Council manages water supply.

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