Read on for an explanation of what the TANK Plan decision, finally released last Friday, means for us all. And what should happen next......
The release last week of the long-awaited decision on Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s TANK Plan should be welcomed by communities on the Heretaunga Plains and the public, growers, industry groups and Treaty Partners should unite behind it.
The TANK Plan, fully 10 years in the making, sets challenging new water quality and quantity limits across the 4 main Heretaunga Plains catchments – the Tūtaekurī, Ngaruroro and Karamu Rivers, together with the Ahuriri Estuary. It aims to better protect our drinkingwater supplies, clean up all of the waterways of the Heretaunga Plains to a minimum standard, eliminate water over-allocation and improve the receiving environment of our coastal waters in Hawke Bay, all by 2040.
The decisions in the Plan have huge consequences for Hasting, Napier and all of the landowners, farmers and growers all the way to the Kaweka Ranges. The Plan dictates how much water remains in our waterways to support healthy ecological functioning, how much is available for the community – water for drinking, irrigation, food processing, industry and how much can be stored at times of high flow – and which types of use get priority. So the Plan determines both the health of our region through our fundamental reliance on water for life, as well as our economic status as the second most productive farming region in the country, together with the ecological health of the waters themselves.
Originally intended for completion prior to the 2019 expiry of hundreds of irrigation consents which still remain in limbo, the Plan was finally notified in May 2020, but only after long and, at times, acrimonious debate. HBRC’s Regional Planning Committee, its peak planning body comprised equally of elected Councillors and appointees from the 9 Treaty Settlement Partners, had struggled to gain agreement on the either content of the Plan or its pathway to public release. In the end, the Treaty Partners aquiesced to its notification, whilst making it plain that they were exceedingly unhappy with much of the content.
Subsequently, Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated, together with its partner Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga, submitted vigorously against many of the key setting in the new Plan, including the proposed minimum flow settings on the rivers that control irrigation takes (mostly unchanged in the Plan), new high-flow storage allocations and measures intended to begin to address water quality in the Karamu, including stream flow augmentation and managed aquifer recharge.
The decision handed down last week by the Hearings Panel of 5, majority Māori and chaired by the highly regarded Freshwater Commissioner, Antoine Coffin (Ngai Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui, Raukawa, French), sided largely with the Council. Most notably, the Panel found in favour of leaving the key low-flow setting on the Ngaruroro River at 2400L/s at Fernhill Bridge, the Heretaunga Plains groundwater allocation limit of 90 million m3 per year, agreed to significant new allocations of high-flow water on the Ngaruroro and Tūtaekurī Rivers for storage, and upheld the approach of using stream flow augmentation to help address water quality in the Karamu.
As a founding member of the TANK community group convened by the Council to develop the Plan, I believe the decision is a landmark one for Hawke’s Bay. I look forward to finally getting past 10 years of talk and into actions that have been held up far too long, because of parties adopting polarising positions on how to improve Heretaunga Plains water quality and resilience of supply.
Submitters to the Hearings now have 30 working days to lodge any appeals. The decision on whether to appeal will be a big test for new Ngāti Kahungunu Chairman Bayden Barber, as the TANK decision will be seen by some tangata whenua as not having addressed their concerns and not being in line with their interpretation of the new Government requirement to give effect to Te Mana o Te Wai.
The TANK Plan decision is about to be overtaken by an even larger plan that the Council is calling ‘Kotahi’ (‘One’), which it, along with every other Regional Council across the country, is required to complete by December 2024. This new plan incorporates a much stronger partnership approach with Māori in its development and has undoubtedly presented Māoridom with a fresh opportunity to build on their aspirations for a healthier natural environment.
I am encouraging all parties, industry, local government and iwi alike, to forego legal appeals on the TANK Plan, which would only serve to drag things on for years longer, while nothing changes for the better.
The Plan sets out a pragmatic pathway towards improving water quality on the Heretaunga Plains which can be built on via Kotahi, whilst recognising that water underpins our regional economy and that our whole community would now be best served by everyone uniting behind the decision and moving forward to implement positive change.
‘He waka eke noa’ - ‘we’re all in this together’, the best approach is to work cooperatively towards building trust and a shared vision for the future of the Heretaunga Plains that meets everyone’s aspirations.