At its council meeting today, the council was presented with a report on water security, planning for the effects of climate change on the primary sector.
The council asked M.E Research to look at what could happen if nothing was done to mitigate climate change.
The report predicted regional gross domestic product (GDP) could fall by up to $120 million per year by 2060, hitting struggling farmers and fruit growers.
Council chairman Rex Graham said the region might turn into a desert with a long-term drought if nothing was done.
He said the council had directed staff to urgently investigate storage options to help Central Hawke's Bay and the Heretaunga Plains.
But environmental organisations argue the council is not doing enough to make real change across the board.
Forest and Bird freshwater advocate Tom Kay told RNZ there was too much of a focus on taking water out of rivers and putting them in dams.
"There is this apparent obsession with water security and water storage and we're pretty concerned that council doesn't realise what the environmental impact of those things are."
He encouraged the council to look at other options such as restoring wetlands and lowland forests, using riparian vegetation to store water and carbon in soils, reinstating shelter belts to prevent evaporation and erosion in hot or dry winds; and transitioning away from water-hungry land uses such as intensive dairy farming.
Graham said he understood there was more than just water storage and said the council was looking at many options.
"Ninety-three percent of our wetlands have gone and we never understood the importance of our wetlands. Now we do, it's not too late ... we'll never get back to 93 percent but they're really important, they're the lungs of our environment.
"We've driven our economy at the cost of our environment. We've got to stop doing that and we've got to look at how we protect our environment while protecting the economy. They've got to work in harmony with each other."
Graham said the council was becoming more environmentally sustainable.
"The economy's going to become a lot greener and people are a lot more aware of what they've lost. I think our young people are going to drive change at a much greater pace than some of the older ones and I think that's what happened at our council - new people have come on board and they've changed direction."
A regional water assessment project would guide the council's policy. Graham said ideas would be shared with the public in the coming months.