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Tensions at lake reignited

Onlookers observing Greater Wellington Regional Council workers working on opening the mouth of Lake Onoke last week. PHOTO/EMILY NORMAN


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Tensions dating back more than 150 years were reignited amongst Lake Ferry residents this week as the mouth of Lake Onoke was once again reopened.

The Greater Wellington Regional Council used diggers to open the mouth of the lake to control rising water levels as part of its ongoing flood management scheme.

Lake Ferry resident, Mary Tipoki, strongly opposed the opening of the lake mouth and said the subject was an underlying cause of conflict in the area for almost 160 years.

But Adrienne Staples from the Greater Wellington Regional Council [GWRC] advised the opening of the lake mouth was necessary to prevent billions of dollars’ worth of damage to surrounding farms and residential properties.

Mrs Tipoki described the lake’s level on Monday as being “comfortably full and not flowing anywhere” and saw no reason for the water to be manually drained.

“We received three inches of rain in Pirinoa recently which is quite a lot and the lake didn’t open up.”

Mrs Tipoki had written a 19-page document outlining the cultural significance of keeping the mouth closed, which had historically allowed Maori to rely on eeling at the lake for both food and trade.

Her son, Reuben Tipoki, had previously held an event called ‘Running of the eels’, where people caught and ate short-finned eels in a re-establishment of traditional practices.

This was only possible as the mouth was closed at the time of the event.

Mrs Tipoki said the effects of draining the water out of the lake also had an environmental effect, as some residents such as herself found it impacted the moisture levels and running water at their farms.

“There is conflict between those who want to drain the water and those who want to use it for irrigation.

“For Maori, cultural and environmental [concerns] go hand in hand.”

Mrs Staples said a large portion of the lower Wairarapa valley frequently flooded prior to the manual management of the lake levels and the scheme had allowed for the land to be successfully maintained from a farming perspective

“There are people who don’t like the fact that the lake levels are controlled and the mouth is being opened, but it is something which has been done for a long time to manage the lake levels as part of flood management for all the farming properties down there,” she said.

“Taking the flood management scheme out, people have to have cognisance of the fact it will affect billions of dollars  worth of properties.”

It was important people realised that the lake mouth opened naturally over time, if left alone, and the scheme merely hastened a natural process to effectively manage water levels.

“We have a history over the last 60-odd years of maintaining and controlling the lake levels, and we’re not going to suddenly change overnight without having the necessary conversations.

“And we do have to consider land owners’ investments as well as environmental impacts.”

Mrs Tipoki said she just wanted all people affected to be able to discuss a review of the policies that were now in place.

A spokesperson for GRWC said it was currently reviewing the operations of the barrage gates upstream of Lake Onoke in preparation for a resource consent application to replace the barrage gates consent in late 2019.

“There will be a public consultation involved with this process which will be a good opportunity for interested parties to comment on matters relating to lake levels, lake openings and the barrage gates.”


  1. It would be interesting to know how nature “controls” itself in these situations. I guess on a low tide the Onoke water pressure level will quite naturally create a water flow through the shingle which will eventually force an opening and increased flow. Conversely with low Onoke water levels the bar will retain the water and slow down the run off from the land. Possibly before the 1850’s earthquake there was no bar, just a massive channel. Maybe we didn’t even have Lake Wairarapa?? Information invited!

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