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.
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 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 was 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 15 years, WWAC has recommended that the Waimea Community Dam is the best solution to provide a secure water supply for the whole community.
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.
Re-investigating the alternatives
In July 2017 a Council team re-examined all of the studies completed to date to assess if any other viable solution existed to provide more water to the Waimea Plains and urban areas of the Tasman District. Read the outcomes of that investigation of all alternatives.
Historical project timeline
The Waimea Community Dam project has been going on for nearly two decades. Have a look at the Timeline to get a sense of the Dam’s long history.
Regional economic drivers for the project
The Waimea Plains
The Waimea Plains holds some of the most fertile productive land in the South Island, producing fruit, vegetables and boutique crops such as hops and grapes. It is of national strategic importance and its loss of productive capacity would be significant.
The value of New Zealand’s horticultural products exceeds $8.8 billion, including $5.1 billion of exports. These exports command a premium overseas and Nelson Tasman fruit has proven highly valued: the Envy™ apple, for example, is grown locally and was recently crowned ‘favourite apple’ by US consumers. Although wine, kiwifruit and apples dominate horticultural exports, Nelson Tasman is the only region growing boysenberries and one of two growing blackcurrants, unique additions to NZ’s export success. For apple orchard owners, their value has increased by 70% since 2015 due to success in international markets.
The Dam is expected to bring continued growth in higher value crops and, therefore, increased economic activity and value to everyone who lives in the region.
Significant contribution to regional economy
Several independent organisations, including the NZ Institute of Economic Research (NZIER), Northington Partners, and the Nelson Regional Development Agency (NRDA) have analysed the data and concluded there are major economic arguments in favour of water storage as well as major risks and financial costs if there is none.
The Nelson Tasman region would see tremendous benefit in terms of jobs, general health and well-being, and future economic development. These benefits are substantial: with the Dam, the region could see GDP increase by as much as $923 million in the next 25 years, almost $37 million each year. Without the Dam, the region can expect to lose $1 billion in GDP over that same timeframe. In the first year alone, Dam construction will bring high paying jobs to the region and household incomes and consumption could rise by $27 million.
We can’t discount the supporting industries – it’s not irrigators alone who will realise greater economic growth. According to the NRDA, our regional horticulture sector supports 21 other industries including business support, technology, research, and others. Today’s horticulture sector directly contributes 53 percent of the GDP from those industry sectors. It supports 41 percent of the total employment of those industries, which equates to thousands of people. The jobs in these 21 sectors pay a median wage that is 10 percent higher than the Nelson Tasman average.
Decreasing dairy farms
Unlike many other areas of New Zealand, the Waimea Plains are not dairy intensive; in fact only three dairy farms are active. The dam is an irrigation project intended to support a large horticulture industry, it is not dairy-focused. The project is a strong contributor to the regional economy and the health of the river without causing negative side effects generally associated with other irrigation projects. High levels of nitrates, often found where there is intensive dairying, have lessened in our region as dairying has left over the past several decades. Changes in orchard management are expected to continue reducing nitrate levels in the few areas they are still found.
Business growth requires security
Nelson Tasman businesses need water security to keep and grow their workforce and plan business growth. Without it, many small and medium businesses in the region will be forced to reduce operations or close down and the jobs they provide will be lost. Summer water rationing and reduced water allocations will affect all business on the Plains and dramatically affect the regional economy today and in the future.