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The many and varied problems with the Ruataniwha Dam proposal

Written By: - Date published: 11:39 am, October 6th, 2013 - 26 comments
Categories: Conservation, Environment, water - Tags: ,

Ruataniwha dam

The saga of the Ruataniwha Dam raises a number of interesting issues.

The Nick Smith appointed Board of Inquiry includes ex National MP Alec Neill who also served as the chair of Environmental Canterbury before the board was sacked by the Government.  As said by Marty G in the Standard 4 years ago the cause of the coup was that the organisation was too “science led” and the staff were too “green”, by that I presume they meant that the staff were concerned about the environment.  The failure of the Government to restore regional democracy in the area still rankles.

Neill is eminently qualified and his sacking as a ECAN Councillor belies the lack of justification for that decision but his presence has raised eyebrows.  The rest of the board include an Environmental retired High Court Judge, two lawyers and a Dam Engineer.  There is no one with environmental credentials on the Board and this is of concern.

I have posted on DOC’s processing of the original draft submission previously.  Smith was told about the draft at a usual briefing, that evening the manager involved emails senior managers and says that Smith wanted to see “the submission”.  Then two days later a revised submission is shown.  A 34 page submission expressing concern that nitrate levels in the Tukituki River may become toxic by the proposed changes is replaced by a two paragraph submission that is neutral.

A staff member involved in preparation of the original submission has since resigned, pretty obviously in disgust at what has happened.

This is scarcely believable.  The original briefing note said that “a submission should be lodged to the plan change in the name of the Director-General requesting that the Board requests further information by way of an independent peer review of the proposed approach to nutrient management and the potential effect of the proposed nutrient limits and targets on the freshwater values in the Tukituki coachmen.”

The final submission said that the department had considered “the robustness of the nutrient modelling, the strength of the regulatory process proposed and the conservation values at risk within the specified catchment” but it was only going to submit on resource consent issues relating to the Makaroto dam structure.  Between Monday and Wednesday DOC had changed its mind from requesting that there be an independent peer review of the proposed approach to nutriment management and the possible effect on freshwater values to just worrying about RMA issues relating to the dam itself.

The Department had decided not to submit on the one nutrient management approach “as the conservation values of the Tukituki catchment do not justify the resource investment required”.

I am finding this increasingly difficult to understand.  The draft submission had been prepared.  All that was required was someone to go along and speak to it.  The issues were important ones to raise, the one nutrient management approach was risky, there were doubts about the modelling and further analysis was needed.  The draft submission asked the board to seek further information in relation to the risks and to seek an independent peer review in relation to the nutrient management approach.  These were costs that the Hawkes Bay Regional Council would logically have to meet.  There is something wrong with the claim that the resource investment required meant that these important questions should not have been asked.

Other more recent events also raise concerns.

The Hawkes Bay Regional Council has complained about the Radio New Zealand reporting on the issue, specifically the claim the scheme could kill the river.  From the article involved it would appear that this particular comment was an interpretation of the submission rather than a quote from the submission but the way I read it the original comment is fair.  After all allowing for significant increases in Nitrate levels to “toxic levels” can fairly be equated to killing the river.  And you have to wonder at the utility of a public entity taking another public entity to a third public entity to sort out where the truth of the matter lies.  The HBRC would be better advised explaining to the public why the concern is not justified.

EDS and Forest and Bird are complaining that their experts are unable to visit the dam site until October 10 but their evidence is due by October 8.  The landowner is, for his own reasons, refusing to allow access.  There is a simple solution, extend the time for the filing of evidence but to date this has not happened and you have to wonder why not.

Forest and Bird is also concerned because NIWA’s modelling is not available for analysis.  NIWA is claiming that it is intellectual property.  Its position if endorsed will mean that an assessment system will be approved without the public being allowed to understand how and if it will work.  We live in a strange world where commercial sensitivities prevent us from checking to make sure that theoretical models that control the future of the health of our rivers are fit for purpose.

And finally it has been disclosed that GNS Science had its contract to provide advice to the Hawkes Bay Regional Council cut short.  It had been contracted to perform four pieces of work for the Council but completed only three.  Russell Norman made a number of startling claims by way of questions in Parliament including the following:

  • The GNS Science scientists working on the project were pressured by the regional council into completing a report on the dam, despite their objecting strenuously to the accuracy of the information they were supplied to work with by the regional council.
  • The scientists insisted on recording their concerns about the inaccuracy of the council’s groundwater model in their updated report and at that stage the contract was terminated by the council.
  • GNS Science wanted to insert a disclaimer in its updated report, which was that it took no responsibility for the accuracy of the work because the model that the council provided to it was not fit for purpose.
  • An early report in August 2012 provided by GNS Science to the council was used by the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council in its application around the dam, rather than using the February 2013 amended report, which highlighted the GNS Science scientists’ concerns that the report was not accurate.

So we have a Minister chosen Board of Inquiry without scientific expertise, a magically disappearing draft DOC submission, submitters who cannot complete expert evidence because they cannot access the site, a modelling system that is untested and no one is allowed to analyse, and a highly respected Scientific Crown Institute whose involvement in the project was terminated because its scientists objected to the accuracy of the data that it was being supplied.

There is something wrong with the Ruataniwha dam proposal.

UPDATE:  In comments A Thompson has pointed out that Justice Chisholm was previously a High Court Judge not Environment Court Judge and that one of the other lawyers, Mathew Lawson, has a science degree, as well as his LLB, and has been involved as the chairman of the Hawkes Bay ECOED Trust at the Lake Opuahi.


26 comments on “The many and varied problems with the Ruataniwha Dam proposal”

  1. tc 1

    ‘This is scarcely believable.’….this is very much the MO of the nats and exactly why the weasel smith was brought back to push as much of this through as he can.

    what else are the bastards up to while the focus is on nicks dodgy dam is where opposition need to focus, a raft of issues is required as they are good at spinning a single issue.

    build up the narrative there is plenty of material.

  2. blue leopard (Get Lost GCSB Bill) 2

    Nzers appear to be expected to foot the bill for the benefit of private industries’ profits, they are then expected to pay for the environmental damage that these industries create and then they are charged premium prices for the produce of these industries, where in some sectors the best produce is shipped overseas.

    I thought governments were supposed to work for the ‘general good’, not the private interests of a few sectors? Governments would function more effectively if they stuck to the aim they exist to meet.

    Tasman District Council are being questioned re the transparency of their accounting with regard to a contentious dam proposed for the Tasman district.

    How do people make good decisions for their district [or country] when information they are being presented with is being manipulated and not open and transparent?

    • fambo 2.1

      Sadly, it’s a bit of a myth that governments automatically work for the good of the people. Some governments do, but by no means all of them. Having regular elections is the one chance for the population to try and get representatives who will work on their behalf, as opposed to having no chance at all when there is no vote. For that reason, it is important to vote for a party that you are certain is working in your interests.

  3. Ad 3

    Looks like a great case for judicial review proceedings to the High Court once the Commissioners have done with it.

    While personally I don’t think NZ will survive climate change without more dams, the procedural mess over this one feels more and more like Clyde Dam 1982. An intent of the RMA was to stop people being railroaded by development projects like Think Big.

    See you in court Minister Smith.

    • TLAM 3.1

      This whole project has nothing to do with climate change. People were told within the RC to “manage the perception of the greenies” from early-mid 2010. You have a plan. You select the science to support it, you marginalise the science that doesn’t, you dismiss strategic debate about water strategy, you coerce and spin.

      Ad, this dam will do more to increase climate change with terrestrial carbon loss, NOx and CO2 emissions. It will irrigate between 17 and 24 thousand Ha of flats. Hawke’s Bay has 1.42 million ha in total. The real drought and flood concern relates to the hills and particularly how well they hold and slow water (floods and drought implications).

      Their claims that it will alleviate drought is just more spin. And spin is so pervasive that even the non-engaged are smelling a rat.

  4. Rogue Trooper 4

    Thank You for this comprehensive (to date) article mickeysavage

    • tc 4.1

      here here MS, all those annoying facts and legal points of view based on NZ law and how it’s meant to operate. Top work keep it up, more sunlight to expunge this vampire gov’t and its backers.

  5. Draco T Bastard 5

    There is something wrong with the Ruataniwha dam proposal.

    Sounds like the whole process is corrupt and that quite a few elected representatives need to be going to going to jail.

  6. MrSmith 6

    Niwa was seen as a hostile organization by National from the beginning and now it seems it has been bullied into line, the sacking of Jim Salinger was a turning point.


    Speck up and you get fired.

  7. Not much hope of the dam bringing clean, fresh water to the area when it already stinks of so much sh*t.

  8. Ennui 8

    Yesterday I was kneeling beside the Ruamahanga, tying on a fly when I noticed directly in front of me a koura, a large one at that. Later in the day I espied a shag dive through a pool to eat a fish. These are wonderful things, beyond any transaction that turns oil into people (industrial agriculture supermarketism)…..may some of this survive the depredations of the National Party.

  9. Red Rosa 9

    If this isn’t corruption, what is?

    No one doubts the benefits from irrigation, Canterbury no doubt the best example. But a number of schemes there have been consented quite recently, without massive government subsidies and this level of brutal intervention. The 40k ha Hunter Downs scheme springs to mind, and Central Plains well down the track.

    Trouble is, the easy stuff has been done. The new schemes cost mega bucks. And the old schemes are showing up real troubles downstream, which are only now being properly assessed.

    If ever there was a bunch of hypocrites, it has to be the Nats’ Blue Greens. Unless they mean Blue Politics, Green Rivers?


    ECan was sacked so Canterbury irrigation could go ahead. If Cantabrians think this a great idea, why aren’t they now being allowed to vote on it?

  10. foreign waka 10

    Considering that Ngati Kahungunu has traditionally made a strong stance for its people and the environment, I am somewhat surprised that not one person has said anything. What is the story here and why the silence? If there is an issue with the quality of the water surely there must be some concern about the sustainability of all resulting dependent life.

  11. vto 11

    Good shit mickysavage

    The questions must be answered. What do they expect? That the questions wont be asked?

    This is the caricature of this government in its death throes

  12. Draco T Bastard 13

    Citizens Left Out Of The Water Equation

    THE SHUTTING DOWN of democracy in the Canterbury Regional Council, and the more recent suppression of a Department of Conservation draft report on the sustainability of the Ruataniwha Dam, represent the working out in political terms of Conor English’s heads-up warning of five years ago.

    New Zealand’s dairy farmers, and the enormous economic interests they represent, have decided to privatise the nation’s water resources – and the government is helping them do it.

    Dr William Rolleston has even enlisted the reality of Global Warming to advance Federated Farmers’ cause: While New Zealand has plenty of water, he says, it’s not always in the right place at the right time.

    But, presumably, it will soon be in the right hands.

    The corruption runs deep and all the way to the top. Of course, at the top of a hierarchy is where the corruption always starts.

  13. Saarbo 14

    Because of the way National handle things they are fucking this up, by closing down an honest assessment of the situation we see how this Party created the $11 billion dollar leaky home crisis, by pushing through an initiative without thorough investigation in their “born to rule, we know best” way.

    I reckon that if this dam was used as a prototype to deal with all of the downstream (excuse the pun) issues in an open honest way then it may well provide a prototype on how we can grow/protect dairy production and protect the environment at the same time. Obviously if the beneficiaries of this dam stock their farms at up to 4 to 5 cows per hectare and produce up to 2000 kg milk solids per hectare then it will only be a matter of time before the Tukituki becomes a massive drain of effluent run-off and Urea/Nitrogen as are most rivers in areas of intensive dairying, not to mention the complications around who is going to pay for the dam and how the benefits are managed/owned.

    But there are alternatives that should be investigated including Herd Homes which will take the stock off the pasture and allows farmers to deal with the effluent so that it doesn’t harm the waterways, stocking levels, biological fertilisers, could Land Corp play a part.

    This project probably has potential but all issues have to be investigated and dealt with. But National are dealing with this issue the way the do, they are hopeless and they will fuck it up.

  14. Win 15

    Dairy farming should be in places where there is easy access to water not in a place where there is limited rainfall and limited access to water. I live beside the Tukituki river and it really is un-useable now – and this is before the dam being built. Years ago we could swim in it but now water in a side pool, during summer, killed a dog who drank from it. So i guess the question is do we go with economic development and become like China or do we try and present a clean green image WITH integrity. NZ is so smug about this so called image but that is so far from the truth. Ngati Kahungunu have come out against the dam. So have orchardists. Orchardists are blaming the Regional District Council but I think “others” are pulling the strings and being avid Nat supporters I think many of them can’t “handle the truth.”

  15. A Thompson 16

    Just to clarify slightly, the judge, Justice Chisholm, is ex-High court, rather than Environment Court, and previously worked in the area of RMA law. One of the other lawyers, Mathew Lawson, has a science degree, as well as his LLB, and has been involved as the chairman of the Hawkes Bay ECOED Trust at the Lake Opuahi, (See : http://www.ecoed.org.nz ), so the claim that “There is no-one with environmental credentials on the Board…” is a little harsh.

    [Thanks for your comments. I have added this information into the article – ms]

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