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Lakes under threat

Waka ama at Henley Lake in December last year. PHOTO/FILE

Farmers still digesting water impacts

BECKIE WILSON
[email protected]

Masterton’s iconic lakes could dry up over summer if plans go ahead to stop water being taken from the Ruamahanga River at times of low flow.

The proposals would also have a dramatic affect on farmers who rely on bores that affect nearby waterways – known as Category A groundwater takes – with that use also cut.

The Ruamahanga Whaitua committee has released proposals for water allocation, the first of many freshwater management recommendations.

The community-led catchment group is charged with overseeing freshwater and land resources for the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

The Masterton district would be hit the worst by the recommendations that would also raise the minimum flow levels in the Upper Ruamahanga and Waipoua rivers.

Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson said the proposed rules would have significant economic impacts on both rural and urban communities.

“Our rivers are an extremely important part of what makes Masterton a place people want to live in and visit, but so too are our lakes,” Mrs Patterson says.

“Both of these lakes bring significant economic, cultural, biodiversity and recreational benefits to our community and it would be a shame for those to be lost.”

She said Masterton’s lakes were key to it being named New Zealand’s most beautiful city.

The lake at Queen Elizabeth Park celebrates its 110th anniversary this year, and was renamed the Lake of Remembrance after extensions after World War II.

“That history can’t be replaced,” Mrs Patterson said.

“We want to make sure people are aware of the possible future of these lakes and have the opportunity to have their say on how our waterways are managed.”

The Whaitua’s recommendations are harsher than the proposed Natural Resources Plan that allowed users to take 50 per cent at minimum flow level.

“There are huge economic impacts around the increase in minimum flows, and when we can and can’t take water.

“This will effect a lot of our farming and a lot of activities in the rural areas,” Mrs Patterson said.

“I don’t believe there has been enough work done on the economic impact.”

In its proposal, the whaitua stated it was “fully aware that a complete cease take will cause significant issues for reliability of supply for Category A users and have a significant economic impact”.

Federated Farmers Wairarapa president Jamie Falloon shared a similar view with Mrs Patterson.

Mr Falloon said many farmers were still digesting what the proposals meant for them.

“It probably hasn’t landed where they thought . . . they may have thought it was a longer transition period,” Mr Falloon said.

The information was “very light” on what the water allocation rules would achieve.

These proposals are only a small portion of what the whaitua had been working on, and this made it difficult for farmers to understand what changes they would need to make without all the proposals being seen together.

He also did not believe that there was sufficient time for the community to process the proposals before the whaitua put forward its recommendations to the regional council in May.

Mr Falloon hoped more information would be presented at the whaitua’s three public meetings, starting next week.

Regional council chairman and whaitua committee member Chris Laidlaw said a “huge amount” of work had gone into the proposals.

While the whaitua process was drawing to a close, “nothing has been set in stone”, he said.

“We, as a council, are acutely conscious of the need for the consideration of economic impacts and they will be taken into account,” Mr Laidlaw said.

The whaitua has based its recommendations on a “large amount of science”, he said.

“We never thought it was going to be easy . . . but in the end, the final product will result in better water quality.”

Mr Laidlaw said there was no “final closure moment”, and if more time was required before submitting to council, it would be allowed.

The Whaitua will present its whole policy package at three public meetings:

May 1 – Featherston, at Kiwi Hall, 6.30pm to 8.30pm.

May 3 – Masterton, at Solway College, 6.30pm to 8.30pm.

May 8 – Carterton, at the events centre, 6.30pm to 8.30pm.

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