Newsroom Pro's 8 things at 8 am: Ruataniwha dead in the water; Iwirail and jobs schemes for regions

Water dominates today's email: we look at the probable fate of the Ruataniwha Dam scheme and dig into the water levies debate.

1. Ruataniwha 'dead in the water'

The Ruataniwha Dam scheme was effectively put on hold yesterday by its main sponsor, adding yet another hurdle to a major regional development plan the Government had wanted to change the law to get under way.

The Hawkes Bay Regional Council announced yesterday that its Environment & Service Committee had asked council's investment Company, HBRIC Ltd, to advise on whether or not to continue the investment in the scheme.

HBRIC had planned to put $80 million into the $330 million plan, which would be New Zealand's largest irrigation scheme and allow 27,000 hectares of dry sheep and beef farms on central Hawkes Bay land around Waipukurau to be irrigated for dairy and horticulture.

The council also said the committee had asked HBRIC "to outline the implications of the council shelving the Ruataniwha Scheme, so that council can consider whether to remove the remaining $60 million allocation for the scheme from the next Long Term Plan."

The council has already spent $19.5 million creating the plan and has been advised it would have to write off that cost if the scheme did not proceed.

"It also recommends council suspend work on a joint Environment Court application to clarify key elements of the consents for the scheme," the council said.

Last week the Supreme Court ruled against a crucial land swap between the Department of Conservation and the scheme that would have allowed the flooding of the Ruahine Forest Park for the scheme's major dam.

The Government said it would consider rewriting the law to ensure the scheme went ahead, but local councillors appeared reluctant yesterday to proceed further with the scheme.

Fairfax reported yesterday that six of the nine councillors opposed using the Public Works Act to compulsorily acquire the land at the centre of the court dispute.

"The dam is dead. There's no question about that. The reality is it's all over," councillor Neil Kirton was quoted as saying.

Councillor Peter Beaven was quoted as saying the Supreme court decision had been a fatal blow for the project and the council needed to face up to that reality.

"I feel like we've got a dying beast in front of us that we need to euthanise," he said.

Council chairman Rex Graham was less definitive, telling NZME yesterday before the meeting which he could not attend that: "This is a significant moment in this project, and the council is going to need to put things on serious hold and stop spending money on it until HBRIC can provide a report."

2. Iwirail and regional jobs

Politicians from all parties are trooping around the country during this Parliamentary recess week, making a range of announcements aimed at voters in provincial areas.

The big one yesterday was from the Maori Party, which announced a $350 million plan to rejuvenate rail lines into regional areas, with joint investment between iwi and Government and $100 million from the Land Transport Fund.

"For far too long our regions have suffered and our people have been forced to move overseas. We say its time to stop the braindrain – bring on IwiRail," said co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell.

The plan includes bringing back the mothballed Napier to Gisborne line and connecting Gisborne to the east coast main trunk line in Kawerau.

Meanwhile, at an event at the Whakatu packhouse near Hastings, Prime Minister Bill English announced the Government would spend $50 million over four years on Youth Employment Pathways programmes to get 5,280 at-risk youth into jobs in Hawke’s Bay, Northland, the Eastern Bay of Plenty and East Coast. The spending also includes $8 million for initiatives to get Maori youth into jobs.

3. An explainer on the water levies debate

A big part of the regional development debate is around using water and the intensification of farming.

Many in regional New Zealand have seen the rejuvenation of towns such as Ashburton because of the dairy converstion boom there, and would like to repeat the exercise for their own towns, which are struggling with ageing and falling populations. Waipukurau is the obvious example of a town hungry to be 'Ashburton-ed'

But there are growing headwinds against such types of regional development as regional councils focus more on water quality and start to debate how to allocate water and whether to charge for water.

Newsroom's Wellington office has had journalism student Baz Macdonald working with us this week. He has taken a deep dive into the debate around water levies in the wake of the Green announcement of a plan over the weekend.

Here's Baz's explainer, which was first published on Newsroom Pro yesterday.

4. Numbers of the day:

Up 7.3 percent - Statistics New Zealand reported guest nights in hotels, motels, backpackers and holiday parks rose 7.3 percent in May from the same month a year ago. However, seasonally adjusted guest nights fell 2.5 percent in May from April. Guest nights rose the most in May from a year ago in motels, which were up 9.8 percent. Domestic motel nights rose 7.1 percent or 38,000 nights (in part due to heavy use by MSD for homeless people) and international motel nights rose 17.1 percent (also 38,000).

Up 2.3 percent - ANZ reported its heavy traffic 'Truckometer' index of heavy truck movements increased 2.3 percent in the June quarter, which suggested GDP growth for the quarter of around 1.0 percent. ANZ also noted a sharp increase in light traffic, suggesting solid economic growth in the latter half of 2017.

5. Quotes of the day:

New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters talked in a speech in Taupo yesterday about a New Zealand Herald article on the rise of the alt-right and an incident involving the online abuse of a real estate agent highlighting the number of Chinese buyers the agent was able to attract:

"The twittersphere has gone ape at him but, according to Grannie Herald, that is my fault. What an insufferable bunch of fart blossoms they are."

Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman speaking on MSNBC about Donald Trump Jr disclosing in a tweeted email that 'I love it' when the then candidate's son was told the Russian Government had dirt on Hillary Clinton:

"Legally, this is a smoking cannon."

6. While you were sleeping

In the wake of the latest email revelations of apparent collusion between Donald Trump Junior and people linked to the Russian Government, a Democratic Congressman formally filed an article of impeachment alleging President Donald Trump obstructed justice during an investigation into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. (The Hill)

An iceberg weighing one trillion tonnes broke off from the Larsen C ice shelf in Antartica yesterday, the New York Times reported.

7. Coming up...

Bill English is expected to appear alongside Minister of Maori Development Te Ururoa Flavell for an economic announcement in Featherston this morning (weather permitting). It’s understood the focus will be on measures to encourage young unemployed Maori youth into employment. National and the Maori Party have worked together for almost nine years and will be keen to ram home the positive aspects of their relationship to the voting public as the election nears.

8. One fun thing

It's hard to get past the drama around the White House.

Here's an example of the thinking of Donald Trump, courtesy of his twitter feed, which has included retweets of nine news items from Fox News since Monday:

"The W.H. is functioning perfectly, focused on HealthCare, Tax Cuts/Reform & many other things. I have very little time for watching T.V," he tweeted this morning.