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Regional water security programme

With climate change impacting our environment, the gap between how much water we will use and how much we can access is growing. The Regional Water Security Programme aims to ensure Hawke’s Bay has long-term, climate-resilient and secure supplies of freshwater, for all.

Why is freshwater important?

We need freshwater to sustain and enhance our natural environment, to grow our food, for our recreation, households and businesses. 
Hawke’s Bay’s prosperity and success depends on fertile soils, a warm climate, and freshwater. 
However, our freshwater is coming under increasing pressure, and with increased volatility due to our changing climate, we will experience a less reliable freshwater supply.  

Regional Council regulates how much water can be used, to protect our streams, waterways, rivers and the wildlife that lives in and around our waterways.

Central Government is also looking to protect the health and wellbeing of our water bodies, with the freshwater framework, Te Mana o te Wai, which sets out how we manage freshwater - prioritising the environment and human health before our other uses for water.
We need to better understand Hawke’s Bay’s freshwater resources and, as a community, make decisions on how we protect and manage it. 

boys splashing


What is the water security challenge? 

In the past, we treated natural resources, including water, as if they were practically endless but we now know that’s not the case. Climate change and increasing demand are putting our water security at risk. 

While some communities are already facing the impacts of climate change on water security, the Regional Council’s work shows that if we don’t significantly change how we manage water, we will all feel the impacts on our environment, communities, and economy. If we don’t plan for water security, amongst other factors, we are likely to see:

water and shingle


  • Water levels in rivers, streams and aquifers falling in summer due to reduced rainfall and increasing temperatures, meaning more water will need to be retained in the environment; 
  • More volatile rainfall across all the seasons, leading to more extreme events causing serious flooding, slips and erosion. Despite that, we’ll have less rain overall; 


  • Dropping river and aquifer levels could see more shallow rural bores run dry and urban supply under pressure; 
  • Waterways drying and under pressure impacts recreational and cultural values.
  • Reducing access to water creates social inequity and widens the gap between those who have water and those who don’t; 


  • Reducing volumes of water available to our world-class primary sector, could see the following impacts;
  1. Reduction in jobs available across our primary sector (which currently employs a significant portion of the Hawke’s Bay population)
  2. Decrease in reliability of water impacting sectors confidence to invest and potential reversion to lower value land uses that are not so greatly impacted through loss of water supply reliability.


What is the regional water security programme?  

In 2020, the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) allocated $30.6 million for a package of freshwater security initiatives for project development and construction activity, co-funded and led by Hawke’s Bay Regional Council. 

Regional Council, through their freshwater management policy and planning, has already implemented initiatives to manage and protect our freshwater, such as capping new water takes on fully-allocated catchments, setting minimum flows and limits for when water can no longer be taken from rivers.

The impacts of climate change means we need to accelerate work across the board to achieve sustainable water management.  As part of the Regional Council’s broader freshwater work the Regional Water Security Programme (RWSP) was established in 2020 to ensure ‘Hawke’s Bay has enduring, climate-resilient and secure supplies of freshwater, for all’.


What are the projects? 

 The projects associated with RWSP include the Regional Water Assessment which investigates options for reducing demand and increasing supply, a Managed Aquifer Recharge pilot in Central Hawke’s Bay and a community-scale Water Storage feasibility investigation for Heretaunga. The 3D Aquifer Mapping project was also included as part of the freshwater initiatives and co-funded with the PGF. This work, led by the Regional Council’s Environmental Science team provides improved data and information on our sub-surface and will be instrumental in supporting our understanding for key decisions in the future. More information on this project can be found here.

A whole-of-region freshwater assessment has been completed, which thoroughly investigated our region’s freshwater resources, including the growing gap between freshwater demand and supply in a future challenged by climate change.

We are looking at how groundwater systems can be supplemented during periods of high-water flows and small-scale water storage designed to offer environmental protections during dry periods.  


The programme is supported by and involves the Hastings District, Wairoa District, Central Hawke’s Bay District and Napier City councils. 
We are working with local iwi, interest groups and the wider community on what our freshwater future looks like.  

There’s more information about each of the investigation projects in the links below. 

What is the Regional Water Assessment? 

Work done by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) shows that rivers in the Heretaunga and Tukituki catchments will be some of the worst hit by climate change in Aotearoa New Zealand. We needed more information to determine what those impacts are likely to be and how we might address them in future to protect our environment and our access to freshwater. 

The Regional Water Assessment is the first region-wide account of water in Aotearoa New Zealand, using the UN System of Environmental-Economic Accounting - Water (also referred to as SEEA-Water). The report uses the July 2019-June 2020 as a baseline for the Hawke’s Bay region, a year that was particularly dry so is a useful proxy for the climate change impacts we are likely to face in future.

drone 1

The report explored the water security challenges facing the region, changes to national policy for water, mahi the Regional Council is doing to improve water security and the science behind our water. It investigated:  

  • How much water do we have now? 
  • How much water are we using now and who is using it? 
  • How much water might we have in future? 
  • How much water might we use in future? 
  • How can we better manage demand? 
  • What options do we have to increase supply?  


Climate Change trends demonstrate a more volatile climate, with more intense weather events but less rainfall over the year likely.

This means how we use water needs to change. Our waterways already have no more to give, but pressure on our supplies are set to increase. As a community we need to decide how we balance the need to reduce our demands on freshwater, with the opportunities to increase supply.

The task is not choosing one option over the other, but finding a new direction altogether for how we manage freshwater in Hawke’s Bay. 

About the pilot

As part of Hawke's Bay Regional Council's Regional Water Security Programme, we'll be carrying out a 3-year pilot in Central Hawke's Bay to test whether Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) offers a viable alternative water storage option to help ensure Hawke’s Bay has long-term, climate-resilient and secure supplies of freshwater, for all. 

Find out more about MAR here

As a community, we need to decide how we balance the need to reduce our demands on freshwater, with the opportunities to increase supply.  

Reducing our demand on freshwater supplies is not optional. We need to pull every lever we have to radically rethink and reduce our demand for freshwater – through new technology, behaviour change, and targeted policy. 


However, identifying opportunities to increase supply might mean we can better control the pace and scale of demand reduction, lessening the impact and rate of those reductions on our community, as well as supplementing our environment when its dry.  

Opportunities to increase supply would only proceed if they were viable and supported by the community. 


Community-scale water storage investigations for Heretaunga 

In 2020, the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council secured an additional $1.8million of project development loan funding through the Provincial Growth Fund to accelerate their investigations into water storage development in the Ngaruroro catchment.  

cartton pic

Regional Council is investigating the feasibility of community-scale (between 15,000,000 and 30,000,000 Mm3) water storage on tributaries of the Ngaruroro. These investigations are complex and technically viable options are not guaranteed. In addition to proving technically viable, solutions need to meet stringent environmental conditions.  If a preferred and viable option is identified and supported by the community as an option for ensuring our region’s water security, the primary purpose of this infrastructure would be to capture high flows in wetter months so they could supplement low river levels in drier months.

Work is continuing to look at a shortlist of potential options and assess the merits and viability of these potential sites.

Explore our Frequently Asked Questions, video, downloadable information and resources to learn everything you need to know about Heretaunga Plains Water Storage programme. 

TDA1609 Copy Copy"Fresh water is Hawke’s Bay’s most precious and valuable resource. There is nothing else that plays such a critically important role to the social, economic and environmental future of our region.

The ultimate wellbeing of our communities and our people depends on how we manage our freshwater resources.”

Rex Graham, ex-Chair of Hawke’s Bay Regional Council


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