Dodgy Socialist Dam Gets it in the Arse

Fenton "Jong-un" Wilson

Fenton “Jong-un” Wilson

Regular readers will know I am a staunch opponent of bludgers or corporate welfare, and of ruining our rivers with pollution.

These two pet hates come together in the dodgy socialist dam being promoted by the extremely dodgy Hawke’s Bay Regional Council.

The dodgy dam and the even dodgier Hawke’s Bay Regional Council got a big kick in the arse today with the High Court finding in favour of Fish and Game on all 12 points of law, and awarding costs.

A High Court judge has ordered the board of inquiry for New Zealand’s largest irrigation scheme, the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme in Hawke’s Bay, back to the drawing board on the out-clause it created to allow 615 larger farms to dodge a stringent new water quality rule relating to nitrogen leaching into waterways.

The decision is a significant win for the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, the Hawke’s Bay and Eastern Fish and Game Councils and the Environmental Defence Society, all of which appealed elements of the board’s decision to exempt all farms larger than four hectares from having to comply with its finding that levels of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) in the Tukituki River, downstream from the proposed Ruataniwha dam, should be less than 0.8 milligrams per litre.   

The proposed out-clause created “a factual fiction” that “approximately 615 farms are deemed … not to be contributing to excessive quantities of DIN entering waterways in the catchment area when in fact they are likely to be doing so.”

“While constructing a factual fiction may not in itself amount to an error of law, when the effects of that factual fiction are taken into account in the context of this case, it becomes apparent that an unsatisfactory state of affairs is created,” the judgment of Justice David Collins, issued this morning, says. This was “difficult to reconcile with the board’s desire to imposed controls over the discharge of nitrogen in order to manage the ‘ecological health’ of the catchment area.”

Factual fiction is pretty strong words, and costs have been awarded to the outfits taking the case.

What the extremely dodgy Hawke’s Bay Regional Council wanted to do was turn the Tukituki Toxic by setting levels of Nitrogen at toxicity.

Toxicity means what is says, the river would have become toxic, all so 150 farmers could pollute the river.

One of the fudges they used was that the total combined pollution needed to be taken into account, rather than the individual farms managing pollution to set levels.

Essentially the extremely dodgy Hawke’s Bay Regional Council wanted to give a free right to pollute to 150 agriculture businesses, and make us all fund their dam to begin with.


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  • Damon Mudgway

    WO have been brilliant at exposing the HB Council over this matter. Wilson needs to remove this stutter from his brain and focus on other matters.

    Only problem for him is all the promises he made to vested parties. Me thinks this could bite him firmly on the buttocks.

  • cows4me

    Bugger I’m just doing up the boat trailer and now you’re telling me there’s no water in the dam,oh the humanity.

  • Peter

    I suggest you look into the overall economic benefits of the dam to the HB region. HB is a potential food bowl for NZ. One of its biggest problems right now is the effective utilization of its water resource. One of the biggest issues with the rivers is the taking of water by irrigators during low flow periods. Retaining water during high flow periods and discharging to irrigators during the growing seasons is oinly going to take pressure off the rivers.
    Also it is worth noting that consider nitrogen in waterways occurs naturally up to 0.5mg/l and can be as hign as 1mg/l. Above 0.5mg/l can cause plant growth in the waterways. Maximum levels for potable water are around 1mg/l. Above 10mg/l is considered to cause health effects. So in this context setting a lit of 0.8mg/l means that you could drink this water.

    Given the plant growth in the lower reaches of these rivers (they have a weed cutting machine to clear these plants) I would hazard N levels are already above 0.5mg/l….

    And heres the thing. Nutrification occurs because the nutrients run off the land. Why? Because there are no plants to capture them and convert them to biomass. This is because HB can be too dry during the growing season for effective plant growth.

    Irrigation will remove water as a limiting factor. Optimum plant growth means better nutrient uptake – which could actually mean less nutrient run off from cultivated land…

    • Damon Mudgway

      Good post Pete. How would the HBC go about ensuring investment in crop based farming rather than an ever increasing expansion of dairy intensification?

      How does the region address this issue?

  • Peter

    Sorry I’m not the expert. But common sense is that if a person owns land and needs a return on that investment, then they will put their money into an enterprise that provides that return at the appropriate risk. The infrastructure is in place to grow crops in HB, so to me it makes sense to grow crops.
    Here is an example. China has a serious problem with Nutrient loss on their land. They are building dairy farms of 20,000 to 40,000 cows. They import feed from US mainly Lucerne bales and blend it with their inferior feed. There is an issue right now with feed supply ex USA which we could fill. Required landed cost per compressed bale = $US400.
    Lucerne is a great crop for HB. Under irrigation even better. Deep rooted and good nutrient uptake. At a nominal growth rate of 100kg/ha/day I am sure someone could take up that opportunity.
    Just think HBRC could even retail nutrient water to these enterprises….

  • Peter

    Oh and the contract term is around 10years, so with a nominal payback on infrastructure investment of 4-6 years whoever gets into this one should cream it.

  • T. Akston

    Meantime, some “cheap-arse farmer” (to borrow a teutonic phrase) breaches his nitrogen discharge limit and HBRC is all over them like a rash. Drags them off to the Environment Court for a $20,000 fine.

    It is called tyranny.

  • Peter

    Here is another example. In central Taupo there is a Milk Factory. It irrigates its waste water to 50ha of land. This land grows grass when everything around it is brown and dead. Even with only minimal land development the farmer places twice the usual stock units on this land – doubles his income for minimum cost.
    Over two years we monitored water quality on the pristine water way that runs past that disposal field. The water quality actually improved downstream from the waste water disposal field. My reason – Better nutrient uptake through irrigation.
    On a dry farm the animals eat what feed grows and imported feed. They urinate and defecate this on the ground. The nutrients are not taken up because it is too dry for the plants to utilize. Also plant root mass dies back reducing its ability to take up nutrient. On a rain event the nutrients simply run off the land or through ground water and into the waterway.
    It takes at least 4 weeks for a plant to recover from drought so basically in the dry season the system is dormant until 4 weeks after the rain season starts. SO any sequestered nutrient is flushed into the river. Just like a toilet.
    And we wonder why water quality is poor in HB….

  • Peter

    Well. I have been to farms where the farmers are pretty negligent in his basic obligations. For example a farm with 600 cows which produces 40,000 litres of effluent every day. The RMA and local government requirement is that he can only dispose of this too land if the land is in a condition to take it. However this farmers storage system only holds 25,000 litres. Which means he must irrigate every day. So basically this guy breaks the law every time it rains. And every time it rains nutrients are being pushed into the waterway.
    There is no fine incurred for this activity as the farmer is yet to be found in breach. However it is a matter of time. For the farmer it is a risk management exercise. Cost of installing the necessary infrastructure = $200k. Potential risk: abatement or a fine around $5k. As a business man what do you do when the payout is low?
    I would offer that the big fines are usually when the farmer has really pushed his luck…

  • D.Dave

    I don’t always agree with F & G, but in this case, good on them. Many (mainly sheep and beef) farmers still ‘exist’ in drought prone regions without irrigation. They plan their management to cope with seasonal fluctuations. The so – called opportunity to have a dodgy dam would probably necessitate a move to dairy conversion to fund the cost (present market payout excluded). I have always found Sheep & Beef farmers to be responsible stewards of their land, because they have to be. Some, not all, Dairy farmers are poor stewards of the land, (The Woolley case comes to mind), mainly due to financial expectations. Damming and Dairy can only be bad for the Hawke’s Bay rivers and their ecosystems.

    • cmm

      Drylands farmers are also less prone to boom/bust because they have much lower operational expenses. They can more easily survive a bad year or two without going broke.

      We’ll be stuck with these dams, and the costs of paying them off and maintaining them for decades – way longer than the dairy industry can survive.

      Who’s going to pay that all? Oh that’s right – Joe Sixpack taxpayer!

  • Billythekid

    The effluent and nitrogen leaking may be in its last days. The bovines may become blood and bone the way the world milk solids auction is performing. The Chinese have finally cracked dairying I feel ???

    • cmm

      “The Chinese have finally cracked dairying I feel”

      The thing to realise is that as a world-wide producer goes, we’re pretty small.

      China already produces three times as much as we do, and is growing fast. Each year they’re probably increasing production by as much as 25% of what NZ is. In 5 years their increase will pretty much replace the whole NZ production. When they get to a surplus position and can trade on the world stage we will no longer be able to compete.

      Instead, as a country, we will be burdened by all the dairy debt, with no income to match it and no money to clean up the mess left behind.

      While dairy is a huge foreign currency earner for us, it is also a huge foreign burden. NZ dairy farmers owe about $30bn in debts – debts loaned by foreign banks. This game only works while the music continues to play.

      When the dairy boom busts, as all booms eventually do, we’ll be left with a whole lot of foreign debt, and nothing to service it with. That is not a good place to be.

    • Benoni

      Dairying is a huge user of water. No one has more water than NZ for use in dairying. Water shortage is probably the major bottleneck on most countries (including NZ) to producing more highly lucrative dairy products. I doubt that the chinese are going commit huge amounts of water to dairying with all their other requirements for it.

      • Billythekid

        You’re behind the times Ben. Rain clouds can be created artificially now, and the Chinese will be raining on anybody and everybody’s parade they choose.

  • axeman

    Just a couple of points here, one the river is far worse off with the effluent / sewage form the Waipawa & Waipukurau towns, Secondly the nitrogen restrictions for the river under the proposed dam is lower than what is currently allowed.
    Agree the HBRC should be made to enforce the water quality levels.
    It is an assumption that the increase in irrigation will mean uncontrolled increase in dairying. In fact some of the farmers will do better out of crops than dairying especially now with lower forecasted payment for milk solids.
    HB farmers have always farmed for droughts it is what happens on the East Coast but if the dam goes ahead it will definitely boost the region economically which is desperate to raise itself from the bottom dwellers of NZ economic regions. Also should the dam go ahead it will enable the river to flushed at time of low flow and in fact will guarantee a higher minimum flow rate than what is current available

  • Kurrunulla

    So now we have this one on hold and out of the spotlight for a while can we please take a look at what is happening to landowners in the Mangateretere Valley in the Wairarapa west of Carterton?

    A major compulsory acquisition of property intended and enabled by the regional council for the direct benefit of a small group of private investors – all under the guise of regional growth opportunity and a greater ‘public good’.

    There is a stench to this one … seriously there is.