Monday, April 22, 2024

Water storage scheme halted

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The development of a Wairarapa community water storage scheme has stopped, with the organisation behind the proposal saying getting consent for it was going to be too difficult for it to continue. Wairarapa Water Ltd (WWL) chair Tim Lusk says the decision to stop work on developing the Wakamoekau Community Water Storage Scheme (WCWSS) will be very disappointing and deeply concerning to many.
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The development of a Wairarapa community water storage scheme has stopped, with the organisation behind the proposal saying getting consent for it was going to be too difficult for it to continue.

Wairarapa Water Ltd (WWL) chair Tim Lusk says the decision to stop work on developing the Wakamoekau Community Water Storage Scheme (WCWSS) will be very disappointing and deeply concerning to many.

The scheme was expected to become a foundation building block in the Wairarapa Water Resilience Strategy and be central to accelerating land-use change as a significant climate change response.

He says in July 2019 WWL was advised that the scheme was “eminently consentable”. 

“Since then the environmental planning framework has changed rapidly to render the scheme extremely challenging to consent. The time and cost consequences meant that further development is not viable at this time,” Lusk said.

He was unable to comment further.

In its latest newsletter, published in July, Wairarapa Water chief executive Robyn Wells said getting consent for a significant and complex project, such as the Wakamoekau, was always challenging.

“Selecting the right pathway has become all the more complicated for the Wakamoekau as two key pieces of regulatory legislation have been evolving and emerging at the same time and this has created regulatory uncertainty for the project, leading to delays in the originally agreed timelines,” Wells said.

“The first was the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management, becoming operative in September 2020 and its highly directive policies around wetland and river loss.

“The second is policy direction and rules emerging out of the mediation of the proposed natural resource plan that Greater Wellington Regional Council first notified on July 31 2015. WWL has been an appeal party on the issues of water harvesting and storage.”

Lusk says all efforts must now go to translating the Wairarapa Water Resilience Strategy into a convincing action plan.

“Environmental planning frameworks and funding must be aligned to support the strategy,” Lusk said.

“WWL wants to assure everyone that the substantial development work completed by the project team can be taken forward when conditions allow. It is very hard to imagine a comprehensive climate change solution in the Wairarapa without community water storage.”

Federated Farmers Wairarapa president David Hayes says water storage is critical to the future of the region’s towns and rural hinterland, to employment, production and the health of its rivers and wider environment.

He says the Wakamoekau scheme, which aimed to capture water at times of high-flow and store it for summer and autumn dry periods to help maintain river levels above minimum flows, was seen as a foundation block of the Wairarapa Water Resilience Strategy.

“It’s highly concerning that we have stumbled at the first step,” Hayes said.

“I grew up in South Australia, the driest state on the driest continent, I’ve seen how severe water shortages undercut so many aspects of life.

“Wairarapa must not underestimate the shock that climate change-accelerated lack of water will mean to our Wairarapa communities and to the environment. It is time to act.

“The strategy launched earlier this year and led by Dame Margaret Bazley was clear that it needed to be fully implemented if we are to address the impacts of climate change. We cannot pick and choose.

“Storage is the only practical initiative for resilience going forward. Really, the only strand of the Wairarapa Water Resilience Strategy that was being actively worked on was the Wakamoekau scheme.

“With that halted, we have nothing on the table but we still have a solid set of recommendations in the strategy that now need to be properly resourced and managed.

“The environmental planning framework is complex and changing rapidly and this decision by Wairarapa Water Ltd underlines the fact that the planning framework is not yet fit for purpose.

“It is creating barriers that are preventing sound management of the most important issue facing our rural and urban communities.

Wairarapa resident Tina Nixon says if a community water storage scheme cannot be developed in Wairarapa she fears for the region’s long-term future.

“In the past few years it has been clear from commercial users like (timber mill) JNL, existing farmers and investors looking to grow high-value crops, users of the Opaki water race and even from some greenies, that the water storage option at Wakamoekau had exceptionally strong support.

“Add the Masterton water supply into the mix, as it also offered our burgeoning town a chance to future-proof drinking water. So it’s fair to say the case was so compelling as it was seen as critical for the continued resilience of the region,” Nixon said.

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