9 Jun 2015

Wairarapa dams could submerge 30 properties

12:49 pm on 9 June 2015

Nearly 30 landowners could lose their properties in Wairarapa under plans for major irrigation schemes.

Looking back on the Wairarapa from Castle Point.

Looking back on the Wairarapa from Castle Point. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Following an 18-month investigation, Wellington Regional Council has selected two water storage options for a feasibility study.

Finding a solution to a lack of water over summer has been ongoing concern for the rural region since the 1997-1998 El Nino drought.

Last night the council announced two possible multi-million dollar solutions to build reservoirs, both near Masterton, at Black Creek and Tividale.

The dams could irrigate almost 30,000 hectares on land from Masterton to Lake Wairarapa in the region's south.

Costing between $138 million and $205 million, the Black Creek scheme would require the construction of two dams, the larger being 51 metres high and 442 metres long.

The proposed area for the Wairarapa irrigation schemes.

The proposed area for the Wairarapa irrigation schemes. Photo: Supplied

The Tividale scheme could cost between $71 million and $105 million for a dam 41 metres high with a crest 190 metres long.

Wairarapa Water Use project director Michael Bassett-Foss said 18 landowners made up of farmers and lifestyle property owners would be affected by Black Creek, and 11 landowners at Tividale.

"The decision that we made around those two schemes was made late last week. The first priority was to get letters out to all landowners.

"Those affected by the two schemes, we hand delivered those letters, to make sure they did get them and we followed up over the weekend with phone calls to answer any questions they had, understand their concerns and offer to meet once they've absorbed the information," he said.

MP for Wairarapa Alastair Scott accepted the news would be hard for landowners to swallow as some land has been owned by families for generations.

"Some landowners, their whole land or farm will be under water, that would be an extreme. The valley would be full of water where they were farming.

"They may be moved to a different farm so there'll be negotiations," he said.

The projects would be funded by commercial investment, including from farmers.

Regional Council chair Fran Wilde said there would also be both environmental and social benefits such as topping up dry streams and rivers during summer.

"This gives us the ability to manage environmental flows through the water system and the other issue that the team have been looking at is the possibility of helping with town water supplies," she said.

The council said an independent study showed irrigating an additional 30,000 hectares would add $157 million of GDP to the greater Wellington region per year and create 1200 new jobs.

A further $90 million in GDP would be added and more than 1100 jobs for one year as a one off-result of farmers converting to irrigation.

Mr Bassett-Foss was confident farmers would have an appetite for conversion.

"A key consideration for us, for this next phase, is to talk to those farmers again and understand their aspirations for land use change and then we can build it into our economic modeling around who might and who mightn't," he said.

The reservoir feasibility study will take 18 months and cost about $4 million funded jointly by the Wellington Regional Council and the Government through its Irrigation Acceleration Fund.