Speakers at Monday night’s Wairarapa Green’s Water Hui. From left to right; Amber Craig, Mike Birch, Ian Gunn, Eugenie Sage, Robyn Wells, Rawiri Smith. PHOTOS/GRACE PRIOR

The Wairarapa community met on Monday night to discuss the future of water in our region at the Green Party’s water hui.

Key speakers included Green MP Eugenie Sage, farmer Mike Birch, Wairarapa Water chief executive Robyn Wells, Ian Gunn, Rawiri Smith of Kahungunu o Wairarapa, and Amber Craig of Rangitane o Wairarapa.

The night featured a hot debate about the proposed Wakamoekau Water Storage Project, one of the possible solutions to Wairarapa’s water problems.

Niwa has projected that the Wellington region would warm significantly in the future, with rainfall decreasing on the east coast.

Niwa said the increase in drought risk would be highest for inland Wairarapa.

The perspectives given at Monday’s water hui ranged from those for putting in a dam to build water resilience to those calling for a re-think of how we use our water.

Green MP Eugenie Sage said access to clean, safe, and healthy drinking water was a human right.

“Yet here in Aotearoa, we have one of the highest rates of gastroenteritis in the developed world. Every year about 34,000 New Zealanders become ill from their drinking water – and thousands more must boil their water.”

She said there were sweeping changes in the law about how drinking water supply should be delivered, managed, what the standards should be, and what the compliance and monitoring regime should be.

Sage said a government inquiry into drinking water found that there had been little improvement since 2008.

She said some of the problems came from underinvestment in drinking water infrastructure and other elements of the three waters, being wastewater and stormwater.

“Partly that’s because you’ve got councils very concerned to keep rates down, so they’re not always setting aside adequate funding for the depreciation of infrastructure.”

Ian Gunn had a similar take to Sage on council’s investment in infrastructure, standing in front of the audience with a leaky pipe he had dug out of his garden. It cost him $3000 to fix the pipe.

When asked by an audience member how he identified the leak, Gunn said it was quite obvious to him because there was always a puddle.

Gunn said Masterton had a water supply of only three days and that Masterton District Council’s plan had no water targets or resilience strategy.

“Over 40 per cent of Masterton’s pipe network is in poor condition,” he said.

With that, Gunn said that Wairarapa’s water use was above the national median, with an extra 50 per cent being used in summer.

Rawiri Smith of Kahungunu o Wairarapa said Maori sought to be a piece in the mosaic of looking after water. There needed to be more thought as a community about how we looked after our water.

The recently released draft Wairarapa Water Resilience Strategy, composed by a Wellington consultancy firm with local input, showed that 26.78 per cent of Wairarapa’s surface water was used for irrigation, with 133 resource consents across the region.

Another 37.84 per cent went to livestock, and 18.39 per cent to town supply.

Only 0.1 per cent of Wairarapa’s surface water was used for industrial activity, and 16.89 per cent was allocated for “other” uses.

Robyn Wells speaking at Monday night’s Wairarapa Green’s Water Hui.

Wairarapa Water CEO Robyn Wells said in constructing the water storage project; they would encourage a change in land use.

Wells said they would be filling a gap for the rural sector and industrial use where they would not have access to water.

She said industry had indicated that under the new minimum flow requirements, they might not be able to operate for up to 60 days a year.

“There will always be water, and the highest priority will always be the health of the waterways,” she said.

The health of our waterways was looked at in a different light by Mike Birch, who said we needed to be looking for “nature-based solutions” to our water problem.

Some of these solutions included wetland restoration and allowing rivers and streams to flow in an unconfined manner.

Amber Craig of Rangitane o Wairarapa said that we may not have had to have been looking for these solutions if Maori had been listened to 180 years ago.

She said iwi had begged for the wetlands not to be drained and that they were turning out to be the “solution to everything”.



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