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.
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.
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 about 17 years, WWAC recommended the Waimea Community Dam as the best solution to provide a secure water supply for the whole community.
All of the viable alternatives have been investigated throughout the 17 years this project has been considered. In July 2017 a Council team re-examined all of the studies completed to date to assess if any other solution existed to provide more water to the Waimea Plains and urban areas of the Tasman District, and only the Waimea Community Dam checked all the boxes. Read about the 2017 investigation of alternatives.
A new way to manage the water supply
New water management provisions in the Tasman Resource Management Plan (TRMP) for the Waimea Plains became operative on 10 March 2014. The TRMP contains allocation limits, minimum flows and rationing triggers that apply when the Dam is in place as well as transitional arrangements until the Dam is operating. Find out more information about how Tasman District Council will manage water during the interim and after the Dam is completed.
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.
Under the NPSFM, Tasman District Council is legally required to phase out over-allocation of water. 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. Allocations in the new permits will be reduced by about 22% to 70% in some cases, depending on previous water use, and crop and soil type. At the moment, the new allocations go into effect on 1 November 2019.