Water storage crisis continues for Central Hawke's Bay farmers as Govt promises $17m for solutions

Central Hawke's Bay farmers have been feeling the heat after an unusually dry start to the year.

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It has added to the stress of an ongoing water storage crisis which the Government is trying to solve. Source: 1 NEWS

It has added to the stress of an ongoing water storage crisis, which this week the Government committed more than $17 million to try to solve.

With Central Hawke's Bay getting just 60 per cent of its usual annual rainfall, there's slim pickings for farmer Bill Foley's cattle.

"Weight gains for the winter will be lower so when we store these cattle in the winter they could be 50 to 100 kilos lighter than budgeted," he said.

Data shows the region's ground water is depleting, forcing farmers to irrigate in winter as farmer Alistair Setter explained.

"Springs that have never been known to dry out in four generations have. And they've done it twice over the last six years and that's highly disturbing," he said.

Seventeen-million dollars of the Government's Provincial Growth Fund was allocated this week to accelerate solutions.

Part of the package includes a $2.5 million aerial survey which will create a 3D map up to 300 metres underground of the region's aquifers.

Central Hawke's Bay Mayor Alex Walker said decisions on water allocation have been made over a number of years.

"And have they been informed well enough about the state of our water environment before it was happening? And we are in a situation that says they weren't."

A managed aquifer recharge system pumping surface water back underground will be investigated.

Water storage is also prioritised, but on a smaller scale than the failed $20 million Ruataniwha Dam scheme.

Tom Skerman of Hawke's Bay Regional Council said the water that is made available for water storage "is used in a way that is going to be very consistent with their overall fresh water quality outcomes". 

That also means encouraging farmers to diversify to horticulture. 

But with solutions still years away, there'll likely be more restrictions. 

"In six months time we will be going into our next summer period and we don't know what that weather pattern will look like and how dry it will be in that season. We still face short-term urgent need," Mr Walker said.

As the climate continues to change, Central Hawke's Bay will have to as well.