Ruataniwha Scheme passes first consenting hurdle

16 Apr 14

On 15 April the Tukituki Catchment Proposal Board of Inquiry released a draft report approving the proposed Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme.

The Ruataniwha Scheme involves the construction of a dam on the Makaroro River that will create a water storage system to harvest water during winter or at other times of high flow, and a downstream irrigation distribution network. It was anticipated that the scheme would provide a reliable supply of irrigation water for approximately 25,000ha of land, primarily on the Ruataniwha Plains. 17 consents were sought in regards to land use, water and discharge and coastal permits concerning the construction, operation, and maintenance of the dam and related structures. A Notice of Requirement (NoR) concerning the construction, operation and maintenance of the primary distribution network was also lodged. The accompanying plan change addressed water allocation, quality and minimum flows.

The proposal was referred to a Board of Inquiry on the basis that it would affect more than one region or district, and that the components of the proposal may have significant impact on the environment (positive and/or negative). PC6 also involved novel catchment-wide methods for water and land management, with the use of a “single nutrient” regime.

The Draft Decision

The Board of Inquiry allowed PC6 with some key amendments, granted all 17 consent applications (subject to certain conditions) and confirmed the NoR.

In terms of assessing the benefits and costs of the environmental, economic, social and cultural effects associated with PC6 the Board held the issues were not as readily defined as economic or social prosperity versus environmental degradation or the compromising of cultural values. Rather, the issues involved a broader consideration of sustainable management of resources. When viewed in an overall and integrated way, the Board of Inquiry held that the objectives of PC6 would allow for more intensive use and development while safeguarding the environment so that the sustainable management purpose of the RMA can be achieved.

However, the Board of Inquiry rejected the reliance on what was effectively a single nutrient management regime that controlled instream phosphorous concentrations but allowed nitrogen levels up to nearly toxic levels, on the basis it would not protect ecosystem health and would not give effect to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management. The issue of what water quality regimes will give effect to the NPSFM nationally is a very contentious one, and this case is yet another example of the challenges faced by decision makers and stakeholders.

Substantial amendments were required to the relevant policies and changes to instream water quality levels. Water allocation limits applying to the Ruataniwha aquifer were also amended so that there could be increased abstraction.

Having resolved PC6 the Board then determined the 17 applications for resource consent and the NoR. The Board considered that all the relevant sections of the RMA had been met other than section 6. However it was determined that, where it was not possible to meet section 6 the adverse effects had been counterbalanced by offsetting through management and ecological development plans.

The Board held the Ruataniwha scheme would provide a “safety valve” for potential climate change effects and risks associated with droughts would be reduced. While some existing amenity and intrinsic values of ecosystems would be lost, others would be created.

Given the prevalence for droughts in the region the scheme was considered to enable people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural wellbeing and provide the opportunity to enhance the productive capability of certain lands in the catchment, while protecting the environment. The Board held that an extension of the 5 year lapse period to 10 years was appropriate, given the scale of the project and its national significance.

Process from this point on

Under section 149Q(4) of the RMA the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) allows comments on minor or technical aspects of the report from parties. Comments can be made on minor errors or omissions in the report and the wording of conditions. Comments cannot not to be made in regards to the Board of Inquiry’s decision or its reasons.

Comments from parties are due to the EPA in writing by 5pm on 16 May 2014. The final decision will then be issued on 28 May, at which time rights of appeal on questions of law to the High Court arise.

For more information contact Jen Crawford or Maree Baker-Galloway.