Home > A Little Blue Marble Called Earth, The Body Politic > Guest Author: A Citizen’s Submission on the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme

Guest Author: A Citizen’s Submission on the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme

– Paula Fern

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milk prices-pollution

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Plan Change 6 and RWSS Submission

Representation

Paula Fern

Introduction

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My name is Paula Fern and I am a resident of Waipawa, where I’ve lived with my family since December 2011. My family ties to this area go back to my great great grandparents, James Davey and Susan Stubbs who originally settled in Dannevirke after the birth of their first child, my great grandmother Minnie, in Havelock North. This is my 9 year old daughter Marni who wanted to come along today so she could see for herself who would be responsible for deciding the fate of our river, the Waipawa. Your decision directly impacts the future of my children, and all the other kids in our community.

“Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au – I am the river, the river is me” is a true description as our water is daily a part of us; our townships water supply comes from two shallow bores adjacent to the Waipawa River. As such maintaining a healthy river is essential for our community.

According to the latest published compliance (1) our water supply is ungraded, and it doesn’t comply for E.coli or Protozoa, and no official P2’s, such as nitrates, are even tested for. In light of the current situation in Canterbury it would be appropriate to know what else we’re actually drinking.

As a family we spend a lot of time in and with our river, whether it’s walking with our dog, swimming, or fishing. Marni’s older brother is becoming quite the expert at enticing trout onto his line, and releasing them afterwards.

We realise how fortunate we are, being able to walk just down the road to what is a vital asset. It gives so much to us, and we believe that it should be protected and enhanced, not turned into a toxic dumping ground and over allocated for irrigation, which has been the fate of so many of our waterways. It will be the fate of many more if we don’t stand up and say no, and that’s the message I want to convey to you all; the risks of this particular proposal outweigh any perceived benefit.

Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme

The first part of my submission I’d like to speak about concerns the RWSS.

I am opposed to the dam in its entirety because of the unacceptable risk it exposes my community to, and other matters.

The first time this scheme impacted on me was when I went to see a local business to see if they had any part time work available and within 5 minutes I was told that if I didn’t support the dam then I wouldn’t be employed, and that the dam would be the saviour of businesses and retail in Waipukurau township. I was then shown a large map of the dam site. To say that I was left a little perplexed by the experience is an understatement. Apart from knowing that I couldn’t work there, I also knew that I would have to find out more about this golden goose.

It’s been a slow process as information hasn’t been overly forthcoming.

I was reading the Assessment for Environmental Effect in July 2013 when I read about the risk assessment for the dam. It made me take notice, and then I found the final draft of the Dam Break Analysis dated March 2013. Some facts that I instantly grasped were the Potential Impact Category (PIC) is High, the Population At Risk (PAR) is approximately 1000, so roughly half the population of Waipawa. But of course the location of those at risk isn’t exclusive to Waipawa, it includes those that are in the potential inundation path directly below the dam who wouldn’t have any warning or time to evacuate, and includes people in the Lindsay Road area of Waipukurau, and other low lying areas which are pointed out in the maps. It would affect the lower part of Waipawa, with depths up to 5 metres in some parts; there is no real difference between the Sunny Day failure as opposed to the Rainy Day.

There have been lots of words bandied about since, like the chances of failure are small, they build on fault lines all the time. From one now ex regional councillor when I asked his opinion of the potential dam failure, and pointed out the population at risk and that there is actually a fairly good chance that it will fail, his response was,

Well I guess they’d be dead, but we need the water.”

There are several questions that need to be asked; how would insurance be affected for those that own property in the zone? Will premiums go through the roof, or could insurance companies refuse to cover properties completely? Will house values fall, and will homeowners be able to sell with the potential risk hanging over their property? These are all unknowns because QVNZ and insurers won’t comment until a decision is made.

However I did contact a cousin who has been working in insurance on the Christchurch Earthquake Recovery. He asked if this will be noted on the district plan in the future, and noted against the property titles as being in a hazard zone. He also noted that a low-level flood would cause more damage from sewerage overflow and spread.

So why would it fail?

Earthquake:

The Dam is being built approximately 800m from the Mohaka Fault, which according to Kyle Bland of GNS is a “very, very active fault”. For a geologist charged with looking for oil and gas deposits that is probably a very good thing, but for building a major piece of infrastructure that can potentially kill a thousand people or more it’s not such a fantastic prospect. The Mohaka Fault, which is what the Makaroro reservoir would sit directly on top of, is classed as a 1 on the Recurrence Interval Class along with the Alpine and Wellington faults, which means a recurrence of under 2000years. The scale goes down to 6 which is a RI of between 20,000-125,000years.(2&3)

On the Civil Defence Hawkes Bay page there’s also some very clear information on potential earthquakes on the Mohaka fault(4) situated in the proposed dam site area over a 475yr return period, and 5000yr return. The 5000yr return represents the Maximum Credible Earthquake which has a Modified Mercalli Intensity(MMI) of 11, and a peak ground acceleration(PGA) of 1.1.

The description of a MMI 11 is that it’s Extreme. Few if any structures remain standing. There would be numerous landslides, with cracks and deformation of the ground.

A PGA of 1.1 is violent shaking and the potential damage is very heavy.

I’ve read the evidence of Trevor Matuschka, Philip Carter and Maria Villamor Perez. The specifications that they are quoting don’t appear to be of the degree of MCE that we are expecting. In Mr Carter’s evidence, 3.3

(a) The dam site is located around 750 m from the primary active Mohaka Fault which has an average recurrence of fault movement of around 1300 years and this together with other active faults in the vicinity, pose a credible shaking hazard to the dam site. GNS has recommended a maximum credible earthquake (MCE) of magnitude Mw 7.5, equivalent to 7.1 on the Richter scale. This would produce an estimated 84th percentile peak ground acceleration at the dam site of 0.77 g.

(b)The MCE is defined as the largest earthquake that can reasonably be expected to be generated by a specific source on the basis of the available seismological and geological evidence. It represents the earthquake hazard level used for design and evaluation of critical features of high hazard projects.

(c)Modern dam design guidelines, including the New Zealand Society on Large Dams (NZSOLD), adopt a two level design approach. A dam must be able to withstand the effects of earthquake shaking that could reasonably be expected to occur in the life of the dam with none or minimal, easily repairable damage. This level is known as the Operational Basis Earthquake (OBE) and is taken equal to earthquake shaking with an average return period of 150 years. The dam must also be able to withstand, without uncontrolled release of the reservoir, earthquake shaking associated with the earthquake source capable of generating the highest level of ground shaking at the site (in this case the Mohaka Fault). This is known as the Maximum Design Earthquake (MDE).

As the 5000yr return is considerably larger than this and could occur within the life of the dam then surely that is what should be the MDE, not what Mr Carter is quoting that GNS have recommended?

Can a dam be built to withstand an earthquake of this size?

How can the dam designers be confident their finalised design would survive such a catastrophic event?

As far as I know, there are no examples of a dam in this fault scenario surviving an earthquake of the magnitude expected. In fact I found a paper penned by the current and two former chairs of ICOLD, Martin Wieland, A. Bozovic and R.P Brenner (Mr Wieland is someone that Mr Matuschka refers to in his evidence several times) that also supports my assumption. In it they state,

As a general guideline, if significant movement along a fault crossing the dam site is accepted as a reasonable possibility during the lifetime of the dam, the best advice is to select an alternative site, less exposed to geodynamic hazard. Such standpoint is supported by the fact that no dam, foreseen to successfully survive the shearing action of a fault slip in its foundation, has ever been exposed to actual test under such event(10).”

This appears to contradict the evidence of Mr Matuschka, 2.2(iii) I consider a CFRD is a good option for the site. This type of dam is inherently capable of withstanding high levels of earthquake ground motion, the design can accommodate displacements, and even if the upstream concrete facing is damaged the embankment will not fail. Also in his evidence it is stated in a letter to Tonkin and Taylor under site selection, “there are no ideal dam sites in the project area.

There seems to be contradictions at every turn.

There has been an attempt by HBRC to show the effects on Waipawa should the dam fail and breach in the kind of earthquake which comes along once per century in these parts, but their downplaying publicly of the risk is irresponsible in my opinion. In the event of an earthquake we’re fortunate that our townships are small in that we have no high-rise buildings, and the majority of dwellings are wooden structures on raised foundations.

They crack but don’t tend to collapse like brick or concrete buildings. An EQC research paper I read from Dec 1995 reaffirms this,

Fortunately, except for the Wellington area these faults lie mostly on the eastern margin and within axial ranges. They pass mainly through farmland, areas of forestry and the Ruahine Range. It is possible that some farm houses in close proximity to the faults will receive damage but structures built on the fault may be ruptured or buried if in the path of any earthquake triggered landslides (7).”

The chances are that those in the identified inundation zone would survive, some may be trapped and/or injured in collapsed buildings, but they’d be alive. Add a wall of water to the scenario and the chances of survival lessen.

A more likely scenario than dam failure and inundation is that Reservoir Triggered Seismicity will cause an earthquake. Mr Carter, and Mr Matuschka refer to the Zipingpu Dam as being an example of a CFRD that has withstood a catastrophic earthquake. What they both failed to mention was that the Zipingpu, or specifically its reservoir, is held by many to be the cause of the Wenchuan Earthquake that it survived (5&6). Over 69,000 people were confirmed dead and over 18,000 were never accounted for as a result of the Mw7.9 earthquake that occurred on May 12, 2008.

It wasn’t the dam failing that killed these people; the area that the Reservoir Triggered Seismicity destroyed was far wider than a projected inundation path and as a consequence far more deadly and destructive.

The effects of this go much wider than just people in the way of a rush of dam water.

An earthquake from RTS is certain to be very shallow because of the way the fracture is triggered, so the surface shaking would be very intense and will certainly kill people.

Living in fear of a random dam break is one thing – why should we live in fear of an earthquake caused by the dam as well? It’s not right. I don’t think the risk has been investigated at all, and the risk is very real, no matter how much the promoters of the dam wish to downplay it. Who are these people to say we have to have it? Even if they are ok to be personally at risk they don’t speak for me, and for the sake of my family and my community, I’m not okay with this. Many of the people involved with this process do not have to physically live with the consequences, and I wonder how their perspective would alter if they did.

Why are we being used as guinea pigs?

Other Issues

Emergency Action Plan:

It hasn’t been written yet. Are there going to be sirens along the river? Is it going to be the volunteer fire fighters that would be expected to take on this duty too?

Final Design:

The fact that the design wouldn’t be completed until after consent was granted, and that HBRC and CHBDC would have the final say adds to my total lack of confidence that the design would come under enough scrutiny.

Creating a Low Wage Economy:

John Hayes National MP for Wairarapa column from June 5th,

Australian workers will get a 2.6 per cent rise to $A622.20 a week or $NZ750.50 at the prevailing exchange rate. That’s $A16.37 ($NZ19.75) an hour for Aussies’ 38-hour working week compared with $NZ13.75 an hour or $NZ550 for Kiwis’ 40-hour working week. I note that the Labour Party spokesperson on Labour issues is wringing her hands in despair at this news.

I think we should celebrate because a rise in the minimum wage in Australia makes our labour force more competitive and will be helpful in attracting investment and jobs to New Zealand. About 18 months ago CHB Mayor Peter Butler and I approached Australian based food processors with the suggestion of moving across the Tasman to establish plants in New Zealand to process food produced under newly irrigated areas.

We established that Australian food processors are interested to do this when our new irrigation is in place. A driver from the Australian perspective is that the New Zealand labour force is well educated, more productive and less unionised than their Australian counterparts. Getting our new irrigation schemes up and running is vital for our collective wellbeing. Irrigation and energy development will be real game changers for New Zealand.”

My interpretation of this column is that the local Mayor and the current MP both are promoting a low wage economy for Central Hawke’s Bay. If they were looking to the best interests of the community and wanted to revitalise retail then they should be encouraging innovative businesses here that pay their employees at the bare minimum a living wage. People on the minimum wage of $13.75 an hour are struggling to afford even the basics, there is no discretionary income, so supporting the flagging retail in Waipukurau definitely wouldn’t be on the agenda.

Other issues that concern me are the following, but have been covered extensively and very well by others so I’ll keep it brief:

Flushing Flows

Flushing flows imply to me that it’s moving the problem downstream, but it won’t make it magically disappear. Would the algae be carried all the way to the coastline, or would it end up being pushed into the bends in the river along the way?

I can see the increased amount of flow will create a danger for recreational users of the river, the swimmers and anglers. I’m also concerned about the birds like the Banded Dotterel that nest on the gravel islands.

Loss of Forest and threat to terrestrial ecology

Losing another piece of lowland forest and its biodiversity, which Central Hawke’s Bay is pretty much devoid of, is a tragedy. One of the things that I noticed when we moved to CHB was a lack of native bird life. When we lived in Napier, a stone’s throw from the city centre, it was a common occurrence to have several Kereru in the backyard at once, Bellbirds, Tui etc. I had a bellbird that used to land outside our home office window everyday when the Echium was in flower which to me was special as I’d never been that close before. Here we see Tui and fantails very occasionally because of a lack of habitat.

Dam Decommissioning

The cost of decommissioning a dam is more than the cost of construction, so if you allow this to be built you’re not only burdening this generation with the cost, you’re inflicting a bigger debt on Marni’s children and grandkids. The life expectancy of a CFRD is 50 to 100 years, depending on silt and gravel build up, maintenance, earth movement from seismic movement etc. So if you allow this to proceed it will return to public ownership just in time for it to be decommissioned.

Increasing Debt and the Associated Risk

With land values on the increase, and the added pressure of paying high prices for irrigated water, traditional farming is becoming unaffordable. According to an article from Stuff 14-11-2013,

Loans by registered banks to dairy farmers this year totalled $32.37 billion. Total agriculture on farm loans $49.2 billion and agriculture as a whole owed banks $50.5 billion.”

That’s a lot of risk being carried by dairy, and what happens when it falls over, because it will eventually. It’s only a matter of time that a “scare” becomes a reality, and that will decimate the industry. Bringing in supplementary feed from countries with foot and mouth for example increases that likelihood, not to mention financing the decimation of another countries ecology, but that’s another story. It’ll be the small guys with the big loans that get hit first, and the corporates will walk away.

One last thing which may seem really trivial to some, but if Dairying increases in this area there’s another side effect, increased danger on our country roads from tankers. I had actually forgotten what it was like to see so many milk tankers until recently when I was in the Manawatu, and from Dannevirke, suddenly they’re everywhere.

Plan Change 6

The second part of my submission that I would like to speak about is Plan Change 6. I am opposed because nitrate levels are set too high and other matters.

In my opinion this is a management plan that ignores a major contributor of degrading water quality in our rivers. With levels of Nitrogen, or nitrates exceeding safe drinking water standards in Canterbury and Waimea(8), and to learn that this is an accumulative problem should raise alarm bells with everyone. HBRC’s admission that site’s they have tested in the Ruataniwha catchment will exceed safe drinking standards by 2052 should also make everyone realise that existing practices need to halted, and farming intensification will speed up the degradation of our water.

Why are levels being set at the bottom-line? Why are they not being set instead at the optimum health for the whole aquatic system? I understand that allowable Nitrogen levels will be increased by almost 500% from what they are currently. I’m not a scientist, and I’ll leave the experts to their qualified explanations, but what I can say is what I’ve witnessed for myself.

During last summers drought we were frequent visitors to the river. We swim upstream of Waipawa, well upstream of the town sewerage treatment plant. The water levels were very low and green algal growth covered large parts of the remaining water in the slower flowing parts of the river. I heard an interview with someone from Federated Farmers blaming townships, and sewerage outfall specifically and its phosphorus content, as being a major cause of algal blooms. North of Waipawa, to my knowledge, there is no township that discharges anything into the water, so where do you think the nutrients are coming from? Green algae isn’t the problem though; Cyanobacteria is the main concern when you have children and dogs in or around the river. We were unaware that it was in the Waipawa as the signs were beside the Tukituki at Waipukurau, but we’ve since found out it is here too.

Last summer provided perfect conditions for algal growth; high temperatures, low water levels and the high nutrient levels. Climate change, bringing higher temperatures and increasing the frequency of drought and flood events will only make this worse.

The way water is allocated needs to be addressed, which means looking at land usage (9).

In 2010, 78% of allocated water was used for irrigation, 11% for Industrial use, 8% for drinking water and 3% for stock, which I perceive to mean drinking water for livestock.

Out of that 78% for irrigation, 76% was used for pasture, 13% Horticulture, 4% for both Arable farming and Viticulture, 2% was other and not specified, and 1% Recreational.

Estimated actual water use from consented takes in Hawkes Bay from 1999 to 2010, went from approximately 23,000 hectares to 47,000 hectares. Canterbury in the same period went from 400,000 hectares, to just under 700,000. Irrigation is a greedy consumer of water, and especially pasture irrigation. For areas that will experience drought in ever increasing cycles is it really the best choice for our finite resources?

When it comes to producing effluent cows are extremely gifted; 1 cow equals 15 people, so with 6.5 million cows approximately that’s the equivalent of 90 million people. That’s a rather mountainous pile. What sort of impact do you think unrestricted increases of dairy herds are going to have on this areas water catchment? If we want to care for our water then we definitely do not want intensification, and we need far better controls in place to handle what we do have.

We do need a comprehensive water plan that protects water quality for the ecological health of the river; unfortunately Plan Change 6 as it stands is not it. We need proven, robust science in place that puts the environment first, not measures that put commercial interests above the health of our river.

It’s interesting to me that Iain Maxwell has changed his opinion from the days when he was employed by Fish and Game. From an article that he wrote concerning the Taharua river at the headwaters of the Mohaka, that appeared in the August 2009 issue of BayBuzz he stated,

In the late 90’s large areas of the valley were converted from light pastoral farming and forestry to intensive dairy platforms. Since the conversion of land to dairy farming, the quality of water flowing down the Taharua River has declined, with increasing levels of nutrient (mainly nitrogen) in the water. The initial evidence suggests that this is not a coincidence and the changes are related.”

Conclusion

It’s always a good thing to try and identify a positive from any situation you find yourself in, and mine from all of this is it has started me on a journey. I’ve learned a huge amount over the last few months, met some wonderful people, and discovered this discussion has raged in other parts of the country for quite some years while I, like others, have been blissfully unaware.

So what specific outcomes would I like to see happen for the good of my community and district? Plan Change 6: I would like the health of the river and its ecology put to the forefront, optimum levels set, rather than just bottom lines which if detected have already been crossed.

I would like our water protected and enhanced, so dual management of both Phosphorus and Nitrogen.

Riparian planting has to be wide enough, and this along with the fencing of waterways needs to be actioned without delay; we also need more wetland areas.

Planning and resource consent need to be looked at so a broad mix of agriculture is encouraged and implemented. Large tracts of farm land being sold to corporate
concerns for intensive farming needs to be discouraged as it will not benefit this area economically, socially or environmentally.

Our changing climate and the strain it will put the river and aquifers under needs to be recognised.

My request for the dam is that you do not allow it to proceed. The risk is too great.

There are other alternatives for water storage, and they are small scale and locally controlled without the huge risk involved. They also don’t involve transferring what is held in commons for all being privatised for the financial benefit of a very small minority.

I have heard certain people say that this is a fait accompli, although I believe that you, the board, are approaching this with an open mind, and once you have heard all opinions you will come to a very different conclusion, that this isn’t the magic pill to cure all ills, or a golden goose. It’s more of a dead duck. There are other options without the negative impacts.

Works Cited

1. http://www.drinkingwater.esr.cri.nz/supplies/supplycomplyforcy.asp?ccode=WAI005

2. http://peer.berkeley.edu/events/2009/sfdc_workshop/Langridge_PEER_Hawke’sBay_RML.pdf

3. http://www.earth-prints.org/bitstream/2122/2409/1/824.pdf

4. http://www.cdemhawkesbay.govt.nz/PicsHotel/hawkesbaycdem/Brochure/EngineeringLifeline/Facing%20the%20Risks_Chap%202_Earthquake%20HazardsPt2.pdf

5. http://probeinternational.org/library/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Fan-Xiao12-12.pdf

6. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/evanosnos/2009/02/early-warning.html

7. http://www.eqc.govt.nz/research/research-papers/neotectonics-ruahine-and-mohaka-faults-between-the-manawatu-gorge-and-puketitiri

8. http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/news/richmond-waimea/9202933/Dam-plan-fuels-nitrate-debate

9. http://www.parliament.nz/mi-nz/parl-support/research-papers/00PlibCIP151/freshwater-use-in-new-zealand

10. http://www.waterpowermagazine.com/features/featuredam-design-the-effects-of-active-faults/

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  1. Mick
    4 January 2014 at 4:29 pm

    “Well I guess they’d be dead, but we need the water.”
    Replace the word “water” with a variety of words …”oil” ,”gas” ,”security” ,etc. and you have the essence of modern Corporate justification .
    Those that approve this should have to move their families into the “at risk” area for a few years , then see how they vote .

  2. Peter Kennedy
    4 January 2014 at 5:08 pm

    A brilliant piece of work. Thought provoking. Thank you Frank and Paula. Thoroughly recommended. There will be farmers choking on their barley.

    • Paula Fern
      7 January 2014 at 9:01 pm

      Thank you Peter for your kind words.

  3. 5 January 2014 at 10:55 am

    Thanks, Peter. When I read Paula’s submission on this issue, I was struck by the way she raised and addressed the potential problems which the Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme might create.

    I thought it merited wider dissemination for folks to read.

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