The head of the board of inquiry into the Ruataniwha Dam has acknowledged strong feelings on all sides of the debate over the proposed $600 million water storage project.
The comment from retired High Court Judge Lester Chisholm came at Monday's start of the inquiry he is chairing in Hastings to consider whether to grant the dam resource consents.
He says a huge amount of effort has been put in by submitters no matter what position they take on the 83m high dam.
"We fully appreciate that these are very difficult issues, and that there are strong feelings in many directions," he says.
Justice Chisholm says that the board is entirely independent and is not associated with anyone who has an interest in the Ruataniwha water storage scheme.
The board of inquiry features a shoal of legal talent, and is expected to run until February next year.
Lawyers present included representatives of the nation's third-biggest iwi, Ngati Kahungunu, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, the Environmental Defence Society, Federated Farmers, Horticulture New Zealand, Fonterra, Dairy New Zealand, and fruit producer Mr Apple.
The proposed irrigation project could eventually irrigate 25,000 hectares of land in central Hawke's Bay.
One of the main issues canvassed early in the hearing was the question of whether increased irrigation and greater intensification of agriculture, including the livestock and fertiliser used, would result in more nitrates polluting waterways.
The Hawke's Bay regional council's lead lawyer at the hearing, Trevor Robinson, says he does not expect nitrate leaching and run-off to be a problem.