Irrigation New Zealand

Overview

The Twyford region is sited on the Heretaunga plains in the Hawkes Bay. The alluvial plains were formed by the Tutaekuri, Ngaruroro and Tukituki Rivers as they flow to the Pacific Ocean. They extend inland to the southwest, taking in an area of about 1000 km². The settlements of Napier, Taradale, Hastings, Flaxmere and Havelock North are located on the plains.

The fertile soil and warm, temperate climate of the area make the plains an excellent site for food production. Vineyards, orchards and vegetable growing makes the Hawke’s Bay region one of New Zealand’s finest producing areas.

The Twyford area is adjacent to and bounded by the Ngaruroro River on the outskirts of Hastings. It is a defined area of approximately 1600 hectares in a triangular shape on the south of the Ngaruroro bordered by a bend in the river and the Napier Hastings motorway and Omahu road.

The Ngaruroro River provides recharge to the groundwater under the Twyford area which in turn feeds the Raupare stream as it drains the area. The Twyford area is described as a pre-eminent growing region and boasts a variety of crops from arable, vegetable and horticulture enterprises. Pipfruit production is the main land use, of which Twyford has a reputation for high production. The locality has a high water table and has been transformed progressively from swampy ground into sheep fattening country, dairying and now into its current use.

The regional authority are the Hawkes Bay Regional Council (HBRC) whose responsibility includes water quality and air quality, whilst the Hastings District Council (HDC) remains responsible for land use. The HBRC manage the fresh water resource on the Heretaunga plains.

Membership

Membership includes all consent holders in the district, approximately 220 consents with a mixture of (207) groundwater bores and (15) surface water takes from the Raupare and other streams, fed from many freshwater springs which derive their water from the Ngaruroro and from the Heretaunga plains aquifer.
Formation catalyst

The catalyst for the formation of the group was a consent review. In late 2008 the HBRC as part of a consent review engaged with the consent holders trying to inform and up-skill them on the consenting process. There was little engagement from the consent holders and often there was a lack of awareness of what an irrigator did or didn’t have in comparison to what they actually used. Previously the renewing of consents had not been too onerous with a large number of consents just rolling over with little regard to changed circumstances.

There was some measurement of takes but often irrigators were unaware of what they were using in total. Most were aware of the application rate to their respective crops but being in what was considered a water rich area – a resource that was needed for approximately only 4 months per year, the need for absolute accuracy was not fully appreciated. It was considered that the actual take was only a small proportion of what was available.

With little engagement from consent holders, and with current water allocation being questioned over potential adverse effects on some surface streams, coupled with ongoing arguments over Ngaruroro river low flows from other stakeholders, the HBRC in May 2009, decided to place the Twyford area water consents were put into a hearing process to determine water consents and their conditions.

Process of initiating group

At this time a small group of concerned water users started to take shape and by November 2009, the Twyford water users group (TWUG) was formed very unofficially to help facilitate and coordinate consent holders efforts. TWUG essentially represented most of the 222 total consents and new consents coming on board. At March 2010 a mandate was formally achieved that allowed TWUG to represent consent holders at hearings process.

At that point TWUG was formed. The confined zone (71) consents were essentially rolled over for a further 10 years and TWUG joined the discussion on the river low flow.

In 2006 a hydrology report [1] concluded the Twyford area was a mix of the three zones, unconfined, semi confined and non confined, in respect to groundwater recharge of the aquifers. This in effect also split the community into three, corresponding with the boundaries of the zones.

A further report sponsored internally by HBRC in October 2009 titled ‘Twyford Consent Area Technical Report – Groundwater Impact Assessment’ discussed potential adverse effects on the surface waters flowing through Twyford. The treatment of some groundwater takes was altered and tied to the minimum flow on the Ngaruroro River. For the Twyford area the water resource was ‘technically over allocated’ and the review process enabled some allocations to be changed. In short after the review process had ended and consents had been issued there were three quarters of consent holders happy with what they have while the remaining was unhappy. As a result some of that number has entered an appeal process against HBRC.

With the consent review process there was a focus and purpose for the group to get going. Getting people involved was not easy despite all having a vested interest in the outcome of the review.

TWUG was formed with significant support and coordination from Horticulture New Zealand (HortNZ) as they represented the majority of the irrigators business in the area. This is an important point as it gave the group access to considerable resources when they needed them. HortNZ provided leadership through a board member who chaired the group. Having the support of HortNZ meant that the Twyford user group could act as a conduit for information to consent holders and the contacts and institutional knowledge that HortNZ had was able to be tapped. Existing contact lists and secretarial capabilities of HortNZ and Hawkes Bay Fruitgrowers Association (HBFA) were used.

To inform and gauge support two community meetings were held in local halls once it had been established that the consents were to go through a hearing process. The database of both HortNZ and HBRC was used to identify all the consent holders, businesses and people involved. Speakers with relevant expertise in areas of concern were invited to speak. From the meetings a name for the group was agreed on and a key group of six representatives was elected to act as a committee.

Purpose of the group

The community meetings came up with explicit instructions to ‘work with the council’ and two key objectives of

  1. longer duration of consents
  2. Secure allocation.

The leader of the group had previously been involved with another similar group and was able to draw on the learning’s from that group’s process and dealings with the regional council and other stakeholders. A key learning that was applied was that the irrigators had not engaged with the submitters early in the consent hearing process. With this in mind the Twyford group engaged with Iwi, Fish and Game and the Department of Conservation before the hearing and was able to get a written side agreement with these organisations. It took a significant amount of time and effort but kept good relationships to the point where there were no negative submissions from them at the hearing. The agreement aimed to give the consent holders 35 year consents with an initial period of 15 years and then a further 20 years for ‘good behavior’. This is a significant outcome and comes as a result of direct dialogue between disagreeing factions and avoiding the combative hearing process. From the negotiations the Raupere enhancement society was formed which has the focus of preserving and improving the stream.

After the consent review process the purpose of the group is changing its focus to campaigning towards audited self management of the water resource. They would like to see a global consent within the zone with related transfer/sharing arrangements. The group feels this would allow some flexibility and could ease some of the tensions that have developed through the report and consent review process. Alongside this purpose the group would like to influence the HBRC processes and costs to allow the change in management regime.

Communication

With the close connection to HortNZ communicating with the members of the group was aided significantly with the detailed and accurate database and the secretarial capabilities. Information was able to be sent out piggy backing on existing structures. This combined with a confined geographical area meant communications were effective. The evidence of this is the two public meetings that were held with very good attendance.

Engaging early and having meaningful discussions with groups that potentially could object to the consents was a key communication strategy that worked in the groups favour.

There were however some critical assumptions made and attitudes held that in hindsight were incorrect. The major error was the assumption that growers were measuring their takes and knew what their consents were in relation to what they needed or took. Although there was a level of this knowledge it was not comprehensive enough when challenged in the hearing setting. This is a key lesson for the group that this detailed level of knowledge is critical both to defend what irrigators already have and to have the ability to manage going forward. Being able to communicate effectively within the group is as critical as being able to communicate with outside stakeholders.

Skills and attributes needed

The ability to have conversations across stakeholders and bring a wider national perspective to the group is valuable and the negotiation of the agreement with the Iwi, Fish and Game and the Department of Conservation utilised the skills that the leadership possessed. Networking and bringing in outside perspectives and expertise when it was required helped to achieve the groups goals. Patience was considered a key attribute needed to enable a successful outcome in the negotiations.
Structure and leadership

The group was formed in March 2009. It is an unofficial group with no legal entity although it has been expressed that forming an incorporated society would be desirable. It is recognized with the HBRC as the voice for irrigators of the area but relies heavily on the resources and structures of HortNZ and to a lesser extent the HBRC.

The chairperson is a HortNZ board member and is able to tap into the resources at their disposal. With wide exposure to other groups and similar situations the chairperson is able to draw on contacts, experiences and networks to advance the interests of the group. As a grower, irrigator and an industry representative he has credibility with both the irrigators and other stakeholders.

Out of the initial public meetings a key group of six people were elected to lead the group. This strong network of has a good mix of experienced growers and consultants that is able to again network and keep in touch with the members.

Barriers

  • Apathy – getting everyone engaged
  • People not considering neighbours
  • Amount of work involved
  • Assumptions made that growers were measuring water
  • Making sure everyone’s paperwork is correct

Key Steps

  • Defined objectives from the outset
  • Utilising the HortNZ capabilities and support structures
  • Getting comprehensive contact and consent information
  • Learnt from experience of similar groups
  • Being proactive and initiating communications with consent holders
[1] Heretaunga Steady-State Ground-Water Model – April 2006

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