Rethink on water storage in the Wairarapa

Written by Piers Fuller

New pressures on water in Wairarapa have renewed focus on developing a storage scheme, but the regional economic development minister will only support "modest" proposals.

Shane Jones said Wairarapa leaders had "forcefully advocated" the need for more water storage and he hadn't ruled out support of some kind.

"It just depends on the scale and the downstream impacts and the quality of community buy-in. I look forward to seeing what Wairarapa ingenuity can pony up."

"Conceive a project that may seem modest in relation to the original uber vision, but they're capable of being executed during the time that our Government has a writ to allocate part of the fund to these water storage outcomes."

Development of a Wairarapa water storage scheme has been ongoing for several years, spearheaded by Greater Wellington Regional Council which paid for half of its $8 million development budget.

The other half was funded by Crown Irrigation Investments which has since wound down or cut further funding to many such schemes.

It is estimated the preferred Wairarapa scheme would have cost around $300 million for the two-stage dam at Black Creek and Wakamoekau west of Masterton.

Greater Wellington has stepped back from the scheme which is now being developed by an independent entity Wairarapa Water Ltd.

Its chairman Tim Lusk said they are now investigating a scheme that would fit within the Government's constraints.

It would be roughly a third of the size of the original project and would cost around $80-100 million.

"As to who pays what? Part of the work we are doing is trying to figure out what the scheme should look like, bearing in mind an uber scheme is not going to fly," Lusk said.

The regional council's Ruamahanga Whaitua Catchment Committee confirmed its implementation programme in August which included cutting off water takes from certain rivers if the flow was too low.

This gave local authorities and industry a jolt when they realised the water they had come to rely on would not always be available.

Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson water security was high on the council's agenda.

"Businesses need to know that they can have access to water when they need it. There's uncertainty around availability of water, whether you're a farmer or water reliant business, then you can't plan and make decisions."

Wairarapa MP Alastair Scott of the National Party has long been a supporter of a large scale scheme that would supply the whole region, but he thinks it should be paid for by those who benefit most.