Hawkes Bay Project

The Context

Commercial land users increasingly find themselves at the centre of often competing demands in contemporary New Zealand. On the one hand, commercial land use is expected to further enhance its already pivotal role as a source of economic and social prosperity, usually through strategies of productive intensification. On the other hand, commercial land use is recognised to have serious and growing environmental impacts that must be acknowledged and addressed. Moreover, the calls for improved economic and environmental performance arise at a time when those who make their living from the land are challenged by commercial instability and by unpredictable seasonal fluctuations in the weather. In this context the Hawkes Bay Regional Council (HBRC) has been developing a large-scale irrigation project in the Ruataniwha plains with the aim of finding win-win solutions that integrate economic and environmental objectives.

The Project

The project aims to discover the socio-economic drivers for land-use and irrigation transformation in the Central Hawkes Bay, the site of the proposed dam. This has involved participation in the design of a council-led Water Symposium that drew together the region’s major stakeholder groups, interviews with key informants and the re-analysis of local market research commissioned by HBRC. A survey instrument has been designed for delivery to commercial land users in 2012.

The Participants

To date the project has involved participation by numerous HBRC staff involved in planning the water storage project, academics and students from Massey University’s Business and Sociology programmes, and a range of local stakeholder representatives.

The Challenge

The Hawkes Bay economy relies heavily on commercial land use and HBRC is looking to further develop this base to promote regional prosperity. However, a new weather pattern has emerged with droughts on average once every three years, and there were severe droughts every year from 2007 to 2009. Moreover, existing water use is known to be already unsustainable, with aquifers being mined and rivers suffering degradation from reduced flows. In this context, HBRC has embarked on a large-scale infrastructure project in the Central Hawkes Bay. The challenge faced by the Ruataniwha Water Storage project is to integrate the goals of economic and environmental sustainability. Achieving such integration requires a robust strategy for social engagement. The challenge is to develop and maintain social engagement processes that ensure the cohesive ownership of appropriate land-use transformations by highly diverse stakeholder groups. The research collaboration with Massey University is assisting HBRC to design and deliver a suite of incentive and communication structures that can coordinate multiple stakeholders who are differentiated by a wide range of values, beliefs and interests. This research collaboration thus rises to the challenge of socially organising sustainability’s complex mix of economic and environmental goals.