Dry Hawke’s Bay faces a water allocation crisis

As communities and councils across the country discuss the government’s three waters proposal, Ongaonga in central Hawke’s Bay is already grappling with growing demand for a limited resource.

Ongaonga residents told Whena Owen on Q+A with Jack Tame that boreholes that previously provided a steady supply of clean, clear water are drying up, while just down the road farm irrigators are running without stop. They must pay thousands of dollars to dig deeper boreholes, truck water, or rely on neighbors with deeper boreholes to get by.

Longtime residents say the streams and rivers were only dry in the height of summer for a month or two, “now it’s dry probably 10 months, 11 months of the year, and the irrigators, there are more of them, they are constantly running.

“Most people can’t afford to dig a deeper borehole just to try to access this water,” said one resident.

“You can’t afford to buy it; water is actually more expensive than gasoline,” another added.

READ MORE: Local councils, mayors divided over Three Waters reform

While climate change contributes to the problem, locals blame most of the blame on the regional council. Landowner Clint Deckard says the springs are drying up and he argues: “Our regional council will not admit that our local aquifer is over-exploited.

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council CEO James Palmer says he has “a high level of sympathy for what has happened in terms of change in these communities.”

He says many households in small rural communities have older boreholes that may be shallow.

“They were drilled down to where the water traditionally was, before all the expansion of intensive irrigation agriculture took place.”

The appeal of intensive irrigation agriculture will only increase, with eight local agricultural companies applying to abstract an additional 15 million cubic meters of groundwater per year. These companies declined to speak to Q+A.

Anna Lorck, the MP for Tukituki – along with Ngāti Kahungnu and Forest & Bird – is among those who opposed the proposal, asking: “How can this community survive when we are going to withdraw another 53% of our deep aquifer ? of the Ruataniwha basin?

Palmer says the upcoming hearings will be a chance for everyone to have their say.

“The debate that will take place…and the science that will be contested, and the views of the many stakeholders who have submitted will all be about whether these effects are being adequately managed and whether this is a mode of truly sustainable operation.”

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