Gladstone Rugby Club president Sean McBride, left, and Gladstone Complex president Gary Riddell. PHOTO/STEVE RENDLE
A proposed cut on taking water from the Ruamahanga River would devastate Gladstone – wrecking the start to the rugby season and potentially forcing the closure of the sport and social complex at the heart of the community.
Gladstone Rugby Club was established in 1903 – the sport and social complex built by volunteers opening in 1981.
It not only caters for rugby, but includes facilities for netball, hockey, tennis, badminton, as well as horse sports.
It is also a popular venue for wedding celebrations and community social events.
Under proposals from the Whaitua committee looking at future water allocation for Greater Wellington Regional Council, it would not be possible to take water from groundwater bores that directly affect river flows at times of minimum flow levels.
It is also proposed to lift the minimum flow levels to preserve the health of the river.
Both the irrigation system for the rugby ground, and the sport and social complex, are served by such a bore.
Rugby club president Sean McBride says the community shares a concern for the river’s health, but says not allowing irrigation during the height of summer – January to March – would render the fields unusable.
That would mean no home games, affecting sponsorship and threatening the future of the Gladstone complex.
Complex president Gary Riddell said closure would be “devastating” for the community.
“We can get a thousand people through the complex in a week,” he said.
“The rugby is what keeps the doors open.
“We need $30,000 a year . . . it’s not a small business . . . we couldn’t finance it without the rugby.”
Masterton District Council has estimated that the proposed new minimum flow level would have meant no water could have been taken from the river for 40 out of 100 days last summer.
Mr McBride said the impact would go far beyond the on-field effects.
“The rugby club is actually a pivotal part of the community – it is the social hub.
“It provides a good opportunity to catch up, which can be pretty important when people are going through a stressful situation that a dry spell can create in a rural community.
“It means people can talk, which is pretty important.”
He said the ground was irrigated to prevent it becoming so hard it was a health and safety issue for players – “a grave concern” – something which prevented the East Coast club in Whareama playing any first round games at home several years ago.
“The irrigation system [at Gladstone] went in a few years ago – [taking water from the river] wasn’t an issue at that point,” Mr McBride said.
A reliable water supply was also essential to manage non-sport bookings for the complex.
“We’ve got bookings for weddings as far ahead as 2020 – but if we don’t have that certainty [of water supply] we wouldn’t be able to take those bookings.”
Mr Riddell does not believe the bore creates a huge drain on the river.
“We are not talking about a huge amount of water,” he said.
In a joint submission to the Whaitua, the pair say the economic impact would be immediate, and that the mental health of the community should be a priority.
On May 10, the regional council extended the consultation period on the Whaitua proposals by six weeks.