Wairarapa Times-Age - Council heeds water pleas

Originally Published May 10, 2018

In April, The Greater Wellington Regional Council's Ruamāhanga Whaitua Committee released several recommendations, one of which included stopping groundwater extraction from Wairarapa's main rivers when water levels are below minimum flow. Should the proposals be carried out, farmers in the surrounding area relying on irrigation water during dry months will be significantly impacted, potentially to the point of being put out of business.

This week, public consultation on the proposals was extended by six weeks, as the greater Wellington community asked for a longer timeframe in which to discuss and analyse a move that would have significant, far-reaching economic consequences. 

Beckie Wilson writes:

Pleas from the community have been answered with an additional six weeks added to public consultation on restrictive water use proposals that could hit the region’s farmers and towns hard.

The last of three public meetings was held in Carterton on Tuesday night by the Ruamahanga Whaitua, a community-led group charged with overseeing freshwater and land resources for the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

Previous meetings in Featherston and Masterton attracted more than 200 people, with around 100 attending in Carterton.

Originally, consultations were set to close at the end of May but on Tuesday night regional council chairman Chris Laidlaw said more time was “owed to the community”, and said a decision had been made earlier that day to release a draft of the proposals with a six-week public consultation period.

During the meeting, Carterton dairy farmer John Stevenson spoke of his support to plan ahead for a sustainable future, but said his farm was reliant on irrigation that could be severely restricted under plans to protect rivers at times of low flow.

“We have considered many scenarios, and without this reliable irrigation we are quite simply out of business,” he said.

The whaitua proposals target Category A bores – those which it says have a direct impact on water flows.

But Mr Stevenson said the committee has “a lot of work to do around proving connectivity of Category A bores to the river”.

“It seems basic, but it needs to be proven that if we stop irrigating, then the flow in the river will increase.”

His biggest fear was that the plan, which comes at a significant economic cost to the community, would not improve the river flow and quality.

He asked that any decisions on water allocation be delayed until “actual evidence” was collected.

He said 10 years was needed to change whole farming systems ahead of these water take changes.

The whaitua was supportive of water storage options, including on-farm storage, but Mr Stevenson said that was “uneconomical”.

He calculated it would cost more than $8m to build water storage on his property.

More consideration into large scale water stage options would help solve many water allocation problems, Mr Stevenson said.

“If we are thinking long-term sustainability as a region, then there is no doubt that large-scale water storage will provide our community with reliable water for both population and economic growth, whilst at the same time helping us meet our environmental targets within the river.”

Mr Stevenson said Wairarapa was a great place to bring up his children, “but I want to be in a position to be able to provide for them and their future.”

Whaitua chairman Peter Gawith said the additional consultation period reflected calls from the community for more time to discuss the proposals.

Over the next two weeks, the whaitua will meet stakeholders, including Federated Farmers, and Fish and Game.

As submissions come through, the committee will look at holding additional meetings to discuss those that raise a lot of concern, Mr Gawith said.

As a result of the extra consultation, the proposal will be put forward to the regional council no later than the beginning of June, he said.

Wairarapa Chamber of Commerce general manager Catherine Rossiter-Stead said if the whaitua’s recommendations were implemented, the impacts would not just be on the agriculture industry.

She said, they could affect everyone from manufacturing and service industries to lawyers, builders, realtors, IT companies, car dealers, and retailers, who make up the chamber’s membership, she said.

“We all have to be very sure that we are happy with what is being proposed, and have a clear understanding on how it will affect everyone, including all the Wairarapa businesses that support up our regional economy.”

She urged the community to take an interest in the recommendations because “once implemented, [they] cannot be easily reversed”.

Carterton Mayor John Booth said Mr Stevenson was the perfect example of the region’s future.

He urged the community to submit on the proposals, whether they were in rural or urban areas.