Nelson Mail - Tasman District Council U-turn on Waimea dam draws mixed reaction

The Tasman District Council decision on Thursday to revoke its earlier in-principle agreement to effectively end the Waimea dam project has received a mixed reaction.

Nelson MP Dr Nick Smith welcomed the 9-5 vote to proceed with the $102 million project after a new funding model was presented to councillors, calling it the right decision for the region's future.

"The big gains from this project are environmental and economic," Smith said. "It will enable the minimum flows in summer in the Waimea River to be lifted five-fold and fully meet the national standards for water quality. It will also enable another 1200ha of horticulture, creating more wealth and jobs."

However, Waimea Irrigators and Waters Users Society consultant Brian Halstead said the decision to proceed with the project raised concerns about the "environmental impacts and challenges on the land", including nitrates, with the proposed 1200ha increase in irrigation.

"These things have been deliberately suppressed," he said. "They should have been part of the debate."

There was also concern about the efficiencies of the delivery of the stored dam water to meet its targets of recharging the aquifers over all of the Waimea Plains, Halstead said.

Smith said he would now put "every effort" into getting a local bill for the dam project through the Parliamentary process as quickly as possible.

The Tasman District Council (Water Augmentation Scheme) Bill had been set down for its first reading on Wednesday but on August 31, Smith deferred it "to let the dust settle" on the council's 8-6 vote against the project three days earlier.

The bill was now due for its first reading on September 19. It seeks to gain an inundation easement over 9.67 hectares of conservation land in the Mount Richmond State Forest Park, needed for the creation of the reservoir for the proposed dam in the Lee Valley. The bill would also secure a right to construct the dam on Crown riverbed.

Irrigation New Zealand said the council decision was good news for the district.

"The dam is the most cost-effective way to provide a secure water supply for urban residents, business and irrigators while sharing the cost of this major project," said chief executive Andrew Curtis.