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Unstable water supply causing concern

Water supply pipes crossing the Waingawa River near the popular Kaituna swimming hole. PHOTO/GRACE PRIOR

The doors could be closing on one of Wairarapa’s biggest employers with the cancellation of the Wakamoekau Community Water Storage Scheme.

Juken New Zealand Ltd [JNL] general manager David Hilliard said the company was very reliant on water, as its products were steam processed.

Hilliard said 400 families in Wairarapa relied on JNL directly for their income.

“The mill alone pays $1.2 million a month in wages.”

He said the mill might need to shut down for periods of time without consistent water, which could lead to the whole business closing down completely.

With the cancellation of the water storage scheme, Hilliard said JNL had been left fighting to find alternative water sources.

Water supplied to the mill comes from Masterton’s town supply.

The mill’s primary use of water is in the thermal energy centre [a boiler]. Without water, the boiler cannot run, therefore, the plant cannot operate.

He said they felt the same they had for years with the water supply instability. Mill manager Paul Jordan said in 2018 that jobs would be in jeopardy without water.

Jordan said in the same year, the company had renewed its interest with Wairarapa Water, and the company had given “a significant amount” of funding to the project.

Now, none of that funding had come to fruition.

Hilliard could not provide the exact amount given to Wairarapa Water but said the company had to investigate any opportunities to secure a consistent water supply.

“It was a controversial project, but we didn’t see it coming.”

Hilliard had hoped the Resource Management Act reform would help the process of building the reservoir, but it had in turn, made things worse.

He said Government and other governing entities had the wrong priorities.

“Denying industry isn’t helping”.

On the flip side, farmer Michael Birch said the directors of Wairarapa Water Ltd were to be commended for making the difficult decision to cease the development of the reservoir.

“It never made sense to pump the water 90m uphill to Wakamoekau only to bring it back down again, when it can be gravity fed directly to a storage dam. Other ideas like rainwater tanks, fixing leaks in the supply network, and being more water-efficient will help us be more resilient and reduce the impact on our waterways.”

Birch said rural and urban needs for water were quite different.

“Towns and industry need much less water than farmers. Masterton may be able to build a smaller storage dam at Kaituna, which will have a much less environmental impact.”

He said there were smarter ways to adapt to climate change than to build a dam that would only supply two per cent of farmland in Wairarapa.

Carterton District Council chief executive Geoff Hamilton said the council was implementing greater capacity water storage with the installation of two [2 million litres] storage tanks to manage peak summer demand.

Masterton District Council acting chief executive David Hopman said its long-term plan included $7.5m for water storage at Kaituna in 2023-2024, increasing storage capacity to 40 days’ supply.

Asked if South Wairarapa District Council was interested in finding alternative water storage to the Wakamoekau Scheme, chief executive Harry Wilson said it did not need the scheme’s storage for municipal supply. However, it supported it as a possible water source for its horticulture and agricultural sector.

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