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Renewed hope for dam in Wairarapa

Wairarapa water resilience advocates are hopeful the government’s new Fast-track Approvals Bill could mean the revival of the Wakamoekau Community Water Storage Scheme.

The bill, which has received its first reading, is intended to speed up the decision-making processes for infrastructure and development projects “considered to have significant regional or national benefits”.

The Wakamoekau scheme, which had $12 million of investment and included building a dam, was developed in 2019 by now defunct Wairarapa Water Ltd in response to long term concerns about the region’s water resilience.

However, government regulations changed during the dam project consent process, which meant it no longer complied and failed to gain consent in 2021.

The project would have needed another $8m to modify the plan, but with no assurance of passing through the new consent process, it was put in the too-hard basket and Wairarapa Water Ltd disbanded.

Now, interest in reactivating the project has been reignited by the possibility of the fast-track legislation enabling aspects of the proposed dam that had previously been rejected, prompting the formation of a new, informal water resilience group.

Coordinated by Simon Casey, who stood for the Act Party in Wairarapa at last year’s election, the group has started consultation with organisations with a vested interest in water storage, including the three region’s councils, Greater Wellington Regional Council, Federated Farmers, and various industries.

Casey said he has also been working closely with IrrigationNZ, which has highlighted Wairarapa as one of four regions with a need for water storage.

The group intends to undertake a review that includes a number of options, including the previous Wakamoekau proposal.

“Whatever it is, we have got to give the community confidence,” Casey said.

Recently, the group was invited by the WellingtonNZ regional economic development agency to apply for funding for the review.

If funding is approved, the review process would take about three months and would involve forming an official entity to head the resilience project and hiring an independent reviewer, Casey said.

Masterton councillor and water resilience advocate David Holmes said there is an “urgent” need for water storage in Wairarapa because climate change is predicted to cause drier summers.

“The sooner we get it, the better,” he said.

Holmes has spoken with small seed production companies that want to begin their business in the region but need water assurance.

They would build warehouses and dressing plants, which is good for employment, he said.

Holmes was raised in Canterbury around cropping areas and said that “when the water went in, the place went mad” and created vast employment opportunities.

Federated Farmers Wairarapa president and advocate for water resilience David Hayes said there is a sense of optimism among the farming community that the water storage scheme could be reinstated.

Hayes said he wants the government to consider Wairarapa as a prime candidate to be the ‘first cab off the rank’.”

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