Government report backs Waimea Dam

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Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy is backing the proposed Waimea Community Dam after releasing a report at a meeting at Seifried Estate near Richmond on Thursday that says the dam would deliver major economic and environmental benefits to the Nelson-Tasman region.

The report by the Ministry for Primary Industries finds the dam would enable unirrigated pasture to be converted to higher value crops like apples and improve water quality at the same time. The Waimea Plains in the Tasman district is one of New Zealand’s major horticulture areas and relies on irrigation from an interconnected system of rivers and aquifers.

“The report shows that building the dam would more than double the average annual catchment profit from $14.5 million to $29.5 million,” Nathan says. “This value includes an average annual benefit of $2.9 million, and up to $9.5 million in an individual year for existing irrigators from the reliable water supply the dam would provide.

“At the same time, converting from pasture to apples means that nitrogen leaching would be 10 percent lower. That’s a clear ‘win-win’ for both the environment and the economy.

“A dam would also safeguard minimum flows in the Waimea River and recharge aquifers, helping improve water quality and recreational use.”

Nathan says water resources on the Waimea Plains area are currently over-allocated by about 64 percent and water supply is unreliable, “especially during summer months when farmers and growers need it most”.

The report assesses what economic gains can be made from water permit transfers and the proposed dam, compared to cost and fairness issues involved in clawing back existing water use consents if the dam doesn’t go ahead.

The dam would provide a secure and reliable water supply for existing and future users, including about 1200 hectares in new irrigated areas, according to the report.

The government has provided around one million dollars for the pre-construction phase of the dam. If it goes ahead construction is likely to cost around $70 million, shared between Tasman District Council ($25 million) and irrigators ($45 million).

Tasman deputy mayor Tim King says the report’s findings are consistent with earlier reports produced by the council and Nelson Regional Economic Development Agency.

“It supports the work that has been done to date in that it shows the benefits of providing augmentation to the primary producers and highlights the value of apples to the plains which is positive.

Although the report “doesn’t address the issue of funding which clearly remains the biggest hurdle to getting the project over the line,” Tim says “it will help with discussions with other parties be they the government, Crown Irrigation (Company), Nelson City Council and our own residents and ratepayers.”

Tim says council has provided for the dam through the latest Long Term Plan while acknowledging there are still a number of issues to be worked through in terms of ownership structure and funding.

“What is clear though are the benefits of water augmentation on current and future primary production, urban supply  and the environmental well-being of the river and the district.”