The route from Masterton to Eketahuna reflects the drought Wairarapa farmers have faced on top of covid-19. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND

ARTHUR HAWKES
arthur.hawkes@age.co.nz

Yellowing grasslands and searing heat: a familiar fixture across Wairarapa this summer, during an uncomfortably long drought.

The rain, now creeping back in, provides relief, but little long-term satisfaction.

Drought will be a regular fixture of life on a hotter planet, unless we can future-proof our water supply in times of crisis.

The site location of the Wakamoekau Community Water Storage Scheme [WCWSS] reservoir. PHOTO/FILE

This is the goal of the Wakamoekau Community Water Storage Scheme: the projected reservoir project, northwest of Masterton, that has been a fixture of local politics for some time.

Wairarapa Water Ltd is leading the development.

The reservoir, projected to span 2.5km by 1.5km, will aim to harvest and store water when it is not required in winter, distributing it in the months when it’s needed to agriculture and urban centres.

The project has already secured a $7 million grant from the Provincial Growth Fund to progress the work required to complete feasibility studies, lodge a resource consent application and prepare for construction.

Masterton district councillor Tina Nixon, who has supported the project since the beginning, cites economic recovery after the covid-19 lockdown.

“I am really concerned that there is still not enough speed within the government in understanding how much they can cut through the custard in the processing of these things, so we can get the economy
rolling again.

“We are facing a deep recession, possibly even a depression, if we don’t move fast enough with projects like this, which will add to our resilience, and help with jobs.

“What can help this process is speeding the RMA [Resource Management Act] process around the consenting of the project.

“That could cut years off the time when this could get started. So we could possibly see this in two years if they apply some sound logic around the RMA and go with a principled approach, not necessarily a
detailed approach.”

Nixon’s sentiments were echoed in last Wednesday’s statement by David Parker, Minister for the Environment.

“The Resource Management Act is the primary legislation that manages our built and natural environment, but in these extraordinary times we do not want the standard RMA consenting processes to constrain the pace of recovery.

“Rather we want to incentivise investment in projects that will provide employment, especially for those made jobless due to covid-19.

“It is likely Cabinet will make decisions before the end of the lockdown period. In the coming weeks I will announce the details for how we will improve the speed and certainty of consenting and what projects are under consideration.”

Construction, projected to cost about $100 million to $120m, will be privately funded.

If the WCWSS gets the go-ahead from the government’s accelerated infrastructure greenlighting, the project could break ground by 2022.

A statement from Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford and Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones announced the establishment of the Infrastructure Industry Reference Group, “which will put forward to Ministers projects from the private and public sector that are ‘shovel-ready’ or likely to be within six months”.

Provided demands are met, this could mean that the WCWSS construction timeline may be shrunk further.

Jones also said, “While the economic effect of covid-19 is yet to be fully understood, we know that we have an opportunity to move our country into action mode and the government does not wish to see red tape stymie our eventual recovery.”



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