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How to fund aquifer plan

MAYOR Meng Foon is urging Gisborne District Council to move cautiously before introducing a funding system for the managed aquifer recharge (MAR) of the Makauri aquifer and has urged the council to obtain an independent report.

He abstained from voting on the recommendations eventually carried by the council.

Mr Foon is concerned at any prospect of water being privatised. It led to a debate extending over half an hour on a staff report outlining progress with the MAR and possible future funding scenarios.

Mr Foon said privatisation of water was a huge topic in itself. He would like to see a recommendation for an independent report added.

Pat Seymour said the proposal was not to pay for the water itself but for the infrastructure needed to supply it.

Project co-ordinator Peter Williamson said there would be numerous costs such as power. The not-for-profit society to be set up would probably have to borrow money to complete the task.

They estimated the cost per cubic metre would be around 50 cents with 70 cents to lift the water up to where it was wanted, a total of $1.20 a cubic metre. That was compatible with other community water schemes.

The intention was that by the end of three years the MAR would replace the water extracted from the aquifer.

Mr Foon said everybody using the aquifer would be compelled to pay.

Mr Williamson said it was not a matter of compulsion, there was an issue of equity. If the scheme did not go ahead, a lot of businesses and employment opportunities would be lost.

They hoped that those who used the replenished aquifer would be prepared to pay. They were setting up a not-for-profit company purely to cover costs. It was also hoped that the replenished aquifer would reduce the problem of over-allocation of water on the flats.

Pat Seymour said this was just one more step in a complicated process that had been going on for years. She recognised the Mayor’s concerns but it was not something that was going to change immediately. It was about the council looking forward and water security for industry.

“I am nervous,” said Mr Foon.

“This is about selling water.”

It would be good to get some independent advice on this before adopting the recommendations.

“Water is a natural resource and I know it costs money to pay for infrastructure and operating costs.

When you thought of one tank, if everybody was drawing from it they should be compelled to pay. But that was not the case because some people might get it for free, he said.

The council should proceed carefully.

Josh Wharehinga supported being cautious. Water should be a community asset, he said.

Brian Wilson said the council did not really want to be involved. This was localised to a certain number of businesses.

The council would not allow any process to occur that was not fair to everyone.

He was excited about the MAR project. The concerns and final details could be dealt with in the future.

Amber Dunn said she shared the concerns. The council’s role was to ensure the aquifer did not decline. It should take independent advice to see what was the best way of moving forward with this process.

Mr Foon said he would like the project to go ahead but cautiously, with regard to the irrigation scheme’s funding system. The concern was “is this the right method?”

“If we rush into things, it could come back and bite us. I do not want to sink ourselves into a one-model suggestion at the present time.”

Shannon Dowsing said there was nothing to say the council had a preference for any particular model.

• The council decided to note the contents of the report but did not add a recommendation for an independent report.