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Water storage: Weighing up the pros and cons

The Kaipatangata Stream, Carterton, where the water level was lower than ankle depth in October 2018. PHOTO/FILE

Fund helps grow fresh thinking

Geoff Vause

Climate change pressure is fuelling a new vision for sustainable land use in Wairarapa, the Far North, and elsewhere across the country.

Most regions have suitable soils and need secure water supplies to unlock a significant shift toward high production horticulture.

In Wairarapa the coalition government is working with iwi, private water users, councils and stakeholder groups using its Provincial Growth Fund for crucial projects and infrastructure including the recently announced $7 million pre-construction funding for water storage near Masterton.

Local people are sharing the planning to help end water shortages and transform the region as a food bowl and showpiece for a measured response to climate challenges.

Along with the dam funds, the Wairarapa Water Resilience Committee gets $110,000 to look at future water use, putting the response to climate change mitigation at an intensely local level.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Regional Economic Development Fletcher Tabuteau said the projects “aim to create a framework to approach future planning for water management, with a particular focus on how the impact of climate change can be mitigated”.

Harnessing local and tangata whenua knowledge helps lay paving stones for a new way forward, a rediscovery of regional Aotearoa New Zealand as a diverse and powerful productive entity.

Blue sky thinking is probably reasonable. For almost 100 years Wairarapa was part of the flax fibre industry. Michael Joseph Savage worked in the industry and would share the pride in a resurgence in flax cultivation, for example, its fibre qualities enhanced by flax seed oil potential and the totally untapped market for its linoleic acid which is vital in human nutrition.

Most regions are uniquely positioned and populated for achieving something approaching self-reliance.

Most of what we use can be produced locally in a land use watershed of change which ensures current farming entities can see generational value in such a change.

The site location of the Wakamoekau Community Water Storage Scheme reservoir. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Previously water security meant having more than enough for urban and agricultural use. Now, every litre is targeted, where it is going becoming as important as where it’s from.

Simultaneously, the divide between daily constraints and abstract values is narrowing dramatically in the face of climate and environmental concerns.

This is creating a sense of where we are, and where we want to be.

Wairarapa is home to the first community supported agriculture farm in the country.

Since 1996, the Wairarapa Eco Farm has been building its relationship with the people consuming its food.

Relatively tiny though it may be, the farm’s land use and local experiences are part of an array of achievements across the country that can be measured, and tapped.

Also prompted by the growth fund, initial studies by the Northland Regional Council [NRC] have identified almost 10,000 hectares at Kaipara and Kaikohe suited to high-value horticulture.

Major Northland land holders have been asked what water would best be used for local soil types, land profile and climate.

The public is also being shown this potential and the constraints in the Far North through the NRC and the Far North and Kaipara district councils organising open field trips to look at existing horticultural operations.

NRC chair Penny Smart told the Northland Age recently the true value of water to horticulture could be difficult to grasp through reports and discussion alone, so landowners, farmers, tangata whenua and government staff had been taken on the field trips.

“It was an eye-opener … to see how land considered marginal at best for farming has been transformed by water into highly productive horticulture,” Smart said.

She said the world market for horticulture was increasing, but large land transformation was costly.

Technology and innovation were crucial to managing water use, Smart said, with a willingness to adopt emerging sustainable land use technologies.

The demand for advanced light manufacturing and clever technology supporting intensive, sustainable horticulture presents many more research, training and employment opportunities.

It also underlines the skills deficit in many regions including the Far North and Wairarapa.

Most regional development strategies say rising living costs, particularly in housing, are forcing young people to skip re-entry training and go straight from school to work.

The opportunities and challenges presented by intensive, sustainable horticulture need a large shove for local manufacturing and technology innovation directly related to the desired land use change, with the export potential and jobs in these industries and innovations also being realised.

Wairarapa’s development strategy identifies the need for long-term funding for youth education, training and employment, with schools and training establishments collaborating with businesses and the horticultural sector so education and training plays a relevant and measurable role in rebuilding the regions and ensuring employment.

“The opportunity is to provide training options combined with employment and treated as part of the employee’s general development,” the strategy says.

Thanks to the provincial growth fund the tap is being turned on, with each community being asked to identify what seedlings it wants watered in the economic garden of the future.

‘Trying to fathom a very woolly mammoth’

Mike Osborne

The parable of “The Blind Men and the Elephant” comes from the East.

Six blind men touch a different part of an elephant and conclude a different thing and vehemently argue that their interpretation is correct.

The message is that people claim absolute truth based on their own limited subjective experience as they ignore other people’s limited subjective experiences that may be equally true.

This came to mind as I’ve been reading about the recent $7million funding for the Wairarapa dam.

The statements from the various stakeholders makes one wonder if they’re all talking about the same beast.

Over the last couple of weeks, and in the Wairarapa Economic Development Strategy and Action Plan [WEDSAP], people have told us that water storage is going to simultaneously: unlock our economic potential, provide water resilience, fill Henley Lake (that was a “might”), be available for monsoon buckets in the case of forest fire, irrigate 10,000ha, extend apple production by 1000ha, ensure that big water users like JNL,

Premier Beehive and Breadcraft don’t leave the district, and provide certainty to urban developers about water supply.

First up, can we just call it what it is? A dam.

Surely the case for it can stand on its merits without the “positioning”?

To quote the WEDSAP, “The need for the Water Resilience Strategy has primarily emerged out of the Wairarapa Economic Development Strategy [WEDS], which positions freshwater supply in the context of community resilience rather than solely rural irrigation.”

And then, the WEDSAP describes how the water will be used for rural irrigation. However, the recent media statement from WEDS stated that the storage project when completed, “will help reach the goal of providing a resilience of freshwater supply to Wairarapa”.

Conversely, Dame Margaret Bazley says that Wairarapa Water Ltd (the dam) represents only about 20 per cent of the Wairarapa water issue.

If so, why does the dam get $7m and the Resilience Strategy $100k.

Bob Francis was quoted as saying that getting to this stage of the dam has been 20 years in the making.

Twenty years ago climate change was completely off the agenda; it barely commands lip service now.

It seems like climate change is being used as a convenient rationale for a present agenda.

John Tukey, an American statistician, said, “An approximate solution to an exact problem is far better than an exact solution to an approximate problem.”

A dam is a very exact solution that we are supposed to accept will be the answer to a plethora of ill-defined problems.

It reminds me of the proposed councils’ amalgamation.

Once again, simplistic thinking around what is dubbed a “no-brainer” solution that given a scintilla of scrutiny simply doesn’t stack.

Aren’t we smarter than this?

I think where we can all agree, based on the science, is that the future for Wairarapa brings reduced rainfall, higher average temperature and more “hot” days (days above 25C).

Current projections are for a quadrupling of hot days annually.

Singapore is planning for an eight per cent reduction in water usage by 2030 without an eight per cent reduction in GDP.

A successful future for Wairarapa is to accept the reality and transition to dry land agriculture.

Water will be critical so let’s set our future on how to get by with very little under harsher conditions.

We could be leaders in that field and if Taratahi is resurrected that should be its focus and point of difference.

The cacophony of voices variously saying: resilience, growth, potential, retention, urban, rural, urban/rural, irrigation, not irrigation, environmental flows, amenity values and so on suggest to me that it’s not an elephant we’re trying to fathom but a very woolly mammoth.

Develop the all-encompassing water resilience strategy first and then determine if and how a dam may be one of a number of solutions to the exactly defined problems we’ll be facing with water over the next 50 years.

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