Potential protection order for Hawke's Bay river divides region

The Hawke's Bay is divided over the future of a pristine river with farmers and growers on one side, and boaties and fishers on the other.

While Jetboat New Zealand, Fish & Game, Forest & Bird, and local iwi believe the Ngaruroro River needs the protection of a water conservation order which restricts councils from issuing new water permits, farmers and growers are calling that a threat to the region's economy.

"We want to maintain this river, we want to maintain this pristine, beautiful river with the qualities we all enjoy," said Richard Anderson, a Jetboat NZ spokesman.

The deep gorges in the river's upper reaches provide wild white water for rafting enthusiasts while it is also a habitat for different trout and native fish species.

"It has a really amazing population of native fish and birds and also really amazing water quality from source to sea which is very unusual for lowland rivers in New Zealand," said Tom Kay, a Forest & Bird spokesperson.

It is also the only properly braided river in the North Island, making it the Holy Grail for jet-boating.

"It's for our heritage, for our children and their children. We want them to experience what we've experienced," said Mr Anderson.

When the nearby Ruataniwha Dam scheme failed, locals became worried that irrigators would turn their rights to Ngaruroro - leading to the unlikely partnership of fishers, boaties and environmentalists, who applied for a water conservation order.

Limiting how much water can be taken from the river in the future, as well as preventing the river from being dammed, the potential for the order to be implemented has growers worried.

"We're very concerned you've got to be able to grow healthy food and healthy food requires water," said Mike Chapman from Horticulture NZ.

There are 15 water conservation orders in New Zealand, including the Mohaka River, the Rangitikei, the Buller River, the Rangitata, the Kawarau and the Mataura River.

Growers say there are ways to both protect the rivers and ensure the productive future of the land.

"We've got to focus on water storage, when there's a lot of water falling down from rain and we've got to focus, that storage can keep rivers healthy in dry periods but also keep our plants healthy to feed people," said Mr Chapman.

There are already dozens of submissions against the protection order, which will go before a special tribunal along with the application.

The decision that will shape the river's future is expected in the coming months.