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The Wairarapa community will move one step closer to a reliable, sustainable supply of water, with the conclusion of a funding agreement between Wellington Regional Council and the Irrigation Acceleration Fund.
The regional council and the Ministry for Primary Industries-administered fund today agreed to provide $2.5 towards further investigation work into the Wairarapa Water Use Project, which would collect and distribute water for rural and town users.
The Irrigation Acceleration Fund will contribute $1.28 million, which the regional council will match. The money will enable the regional council to maintain the momentum of engineering, environmental and planning work it has been carrying out for the past 18 months.
The Irrigation Acceleration Fund money is only available if the regional money is on the table. All up, the regional council has committed $3 million to investigation work.
The project proposes a series of water storage lakes around low-lying foothills of the Wairarapa Valley to provide a greater certainty of supply to agricultural and residential users during dry seasons.
About 10,000 hectares are at present under irrigation in the valley, but the project could allow that to increase by between 30,000 and 50,000 hectares.
Regional council chair Fran Wilde said Wairarapa was prone to extremes of weather, including during the summer months when drought conditions could be followed in the next year by heavy rain.
“The project intends to provide consumers with more certainty of supply, but in an environmentally sustainable way and by adopting a broader regional approach to the challenges of water storage and use.”
Ms Wilde said the funding approval signalled the national significance of the project, which had the potential to be one of the region’s biggest economic development projects.
Irrigation Acceleration Fund manager Kevin Steel said the $2.5 million would allow investigation work to continue through to December 2013 when a decision would be made on whether to move to a full feasibility study.
“The key to projects of this scale is balanced decision-making,” he said. “Funding this next 12-month phase will allow the regional council to collect comprehensive information before making decisions about how best to develop water infrastructure while providing for the wider community’s interests.”
The project aims to integrate a variety of local needs and uses, including agricultural production, stream and river ecosystems, municipal and rural water supplies, recreational purposes, hydro power generation and cultural issues. Iwi and environmental and recreational groups are involved in the project’s direction and consultation process.
The Irrigation Acceleration Fund was established in 2011 to help regional-scale, rural water infrastructure proposals reach investment-ready stage. Projects that receive funding must aim for environmental sustainability and plan for best-practice water use.