The Inconvenient Truth – those damn dams are all about Dairying, Prime Minister
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Media Release for immediate release: Rōpere Consulting Limited
Peter Fraser, Principal - Rōpere Consulting, responds to the Prime Minister’s statements made on Morning Report on
Monday 14 March that the proposed Wairarapa water storage schemes and controversial Ruataniwha dam are ‘more than just
"This is a myth propagated by the likes of the Wairarapa Water Users Project (WWUP) and Hawkes Bay Regional Investment
Company (HBRIC)" Mr Fraser said.
"The simple fact is both projects are heavily dependent on dairy - WWUP's figures show dairy will double to 45% of the
irrigated area whereas over 36% of the land irrigated by the controversial Ruataniwha will be either dairy or dairy
support - and in both cases at the expense of sheep and beef farming".
Mr Fraser further notes "dairy is critical for the economics of these schemes as promoters need a big customer early -
and irrigated dairy in low rainfall areas is ideal as it is a water hungry industry. This implies dairy is a critical
cornerstone user - it's like setting up a shopping centre where a developer needs an anchor tenant like a Farmers or a
Warehouse or a New World - with little boutiques selling shoes or over priced honey clustering around these mega stores.
One cannot then say the mall is 'all about shoes and honey' because it clearly isn't".
The corollary is without irrigated dairy these projects have neither a cornerstone customer nor major user (as a hectare
of irrigated dairy uses much more water than a hectare of grapes).
Mr Fraser also takes issue with the PM's claim that irrigation dams are good for the environment due to improved
environmental flows in rivers.
"From an economic perspective, the technically correct approach is to look at the positive and negative environmental
impact of a project and derive a net benefit - rather than picking random factors in isolation. For example, a typical
sheep and beef farm leaches about 15 kgs N/HA whereas irrigated dairy is unlikely to leach less than 30 kg N/HA (and
probably much more) - so once all factors are considered the 'net environmental benefits' of these projects are likely
to be negative."
Mr Fraser illustrated this issue based on WWUP's own figures. Irrigated dairy is 45% of the projected land use and WWUP
want to irrigate 30,000 HA, that is 13,500 HA in dairy. Top farmers will be stocking 4 cows per HA - so that's 54,000
cows. Each cow has a water footprint of about 15 people - so that is equivalent to building a city of 810,000 people and
plonking it in the Wairarapa.
"It's like building a coal fired power station and then planting a begonia in front of it and saying 'move on, nothing
to see here - everything is fine" Mr Fraser said.
"On balance, I suspect the PM is correct in implying thanks to the extra cows and the resulting nitrogen leaching local
rivers will need a bit of a hand with flushing flows, though to imply 'the solution to pollution is dilution' is both
technically and ethically questionable" Mr Fraser said.