Literally and figuratively, water is heating up in Hawke’s Bay right now, and we can look across New Zealand and the world to see what that could mean for us. Devastating floods in the South Island, and crippling droughts across Europe and Asia.
Photo by Radhey Khandelwal (Unsplash)
Literally, the seas surrounding us right now are 1-2°C warmer than normal, according to NIWA. Temperatures on land are similarly way above average. Officially our local climate is now 1.1°C above its long-term average and, according to Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, July temperatures in Hawke’s Bay were 1.3-1.7°C above normal.
Ominous new weather phrases such as ‘atmospheric river’ are entering our lexicon. Whilst New Zealand and Australia struggle with the impact of too much rainfall, USA, Europe and China are all experiencing critical water shortages and drought-induced crop failures on an unprecedented scale.
But we only need to look back 18 months in Hawke’s Bay to remind ourselves what two consecutive years of drought. Extreme is the new normal for our weather. Multiple factors are at play on these weather events but there is now near-universal consensus that climate change is driving the extremes.
Figuratively, water is hot right now in Hawke’s Bay too. The ex-Ruataniwha, now Makaroro water storage scheme has revved back into the headlines, with the consent holders applying for a six-year extension, citing need for further consultation, against strenuous objection from Ngati Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated.
Both parties acknowledge ‘Te Mana o Te Wai’ as the new Government framework under which consents need to be assessed; prioritising water for the environment first, essential needs of people second and other needs, such as irrigation, food processing and industrial production last.
What isn’t clear is whether both parties have fully recognised that Te Mana o Te Wai hands mana whenua the overriding say about what it means. Mana whenua are local Māori who have the best ancestral connection to their local waterway. It is not at all clear that either the dam consent holders, or Kahungunu, actually have the mandate to speak for the people of Central Hawke’s Bay and the Makaroro River.
At the same time, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council is now consulting on a new regional plan, called Kotahi. Every regional council across the country is required by law to produce a new plan by December 2024, setting water quality and quantity limits on all the water bodies in their region. Many water bodies in Hawke’s Bay don’t yet have any such limits, while the few limits that are in place are often highly contested, fully-allocated or over-allocated already. All the limits must give effect to the new ‘Te Mana o Te Wai’ water framework.
Setting new water quality and quantity limits under the Kotahi Plan is going to be confrontational, potentially pitching Hawke’s Bay’s productive sector against iwi and environment sectors in a struggle for competing resources and competing values. Like the Ruataniwha Dam, contention over limit setting for Hawke’s Bay waterways has not gone away, it has just been simmering under the surface. Kotahi will bring the contention to the surface once more; this time under the pressure of a heroic timetable to achieve resolution by the Government’s deadline.
Getting the new water limits right for Hawke’s Bay will require collaboration, compromise, the ability to engage with different world-views and reaching agreement on the pace and scale of environmental improvements across Hawke’s Bay.
Two new(ish) factors will put a whole new spin on these issues since they last dominated our consciousness – the urgency of responding to the weather extremes of climate change and the requirement to ‘give effect to’ Te Mana o Te Wai.