The environment was the big winner with the regional council ratifying a tough new condition precedent that must be met before the Ruataniwha dam can proceed.
While there was no hard or fast decision on whether the HBRC was abandoning, shelving or proceeding with the water storage scheme - as far as the conditions precedent go [all of which need to be met before the water storage scheme can proceed], there are now more of them and they are much tougher to meet than those previously on the table.
The first new condition, introduced by councillor Tom Belford at this week's council meeting, aims to put in place stronger environmental safeguards around the scheme.
It comes with a requirement for the council to be satisfied that nutrient management requirements of Plan Change 6 and the RWSS consents can be met through Farm Environment Management Plans [FEMPs] and other environmental management measures.
Belford said it was remarkable that council not had a condition precedent in respect to the environment at this point of the project.
"The need for one was I think dramatically established in the review conducted, which the staff has made clear to us in public and private communications,” he said.
The Hastings ward councillor said in light of this it seemed important to him that the authority have “an evidence based approach” to what might in fact constitute protection against environmental risk for the dam, something that can be measured such as the water buy-in minimum of 50 million metres cubed.
Belford said his recommendation involves more than just the staff, it involves farmers, with the FEMP process built into the wording.
“We have a FEMP process built into this …. which is the one place where we will actually see what farmers intend to do to reach the goals [they are required to reach] under PC6,” he said.
“And it seems to me totally practical to expect that some number of those FEMPs could be in hand and reviewed prior to financial close [as opposed to a May 2018 deadline].”
He said for council to ask the water users for some further evidence through a FEMP about how they are going to comply with the environmental conditions placed on the scheme was not an unfair request.
“To wait for that to happen until after we have built the dam and then expect this council to conclude 'sorry we are not getting the job done, don't turn the water on' is comical frankly,” he said.
“If a farmer can step up with a water user agreement in hand I see no reasons they cant step up with a FEMP in hand.”
Councillor Peter Beaven supported Belford's move saying that for him to make a decision he needed to apply the principle that “it is the environment first and the dam second”.
“There is a real concern around this table that the water that will be available through RWSS will not be an enabler of better environmental outcomes but it will actually exacerbate a currently degraded catchment and we simply cant afford to allow that to happen,” he said.
For this reason, Beaven said HBRC needed some certainty through the FEMPs, that they were not just treated as a tick-a-box exercise.
Napier ward councillor Paul Bailey was also for the environment CP saying it forces the authority as a regulator to have a much better handle on what is required to meet PC6 DIN limit.
“It is vital that investors, either ratepayers or the institutional investor, know what environmental constraints the scheme's customers are going to be operating under,” he said.
“As investors, we need to be assured of our returns. We need to be assured that environmental constraints are not going to dampen the appetite of landowners to sign up for the scheme.
“If this process takes some years to complete, then that is how long it takes.”
Deputy chair Rick Barker may have been Spartan in his words of support, but nonetheless they hit the mark.
“I will support the amendment and in doing so will quote the words of the Chair [Rex Graham] as my reason for doing so," he said.
“The chair once said at a meeting, for 150 years the Tukituki River has had to live with us, in the future we are going to have to live with the river.”
With the indecision around the RWSS, came more indecision around when this new set of CPs had to be met, although Graham said last month that if the dam were to proceed he would expect the financial close to come in January 2018.
In addition to the environmental CP, a second new condition ensures the Department of Conservation land exchange, currently before the Supreme Court, be resolved prior to the dam proceeding to financial close.
The council has also increased the water sales required before the scheme can proceed by 10 million to 50 million cubic metres.
Graham said the review of the project was extremely worthwhile and has highlighted uncertainty for some councillors and the council owes it to the ratepayers of Hawke’s Bay to fully investigate the future impacts of the scheme.