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Regional Council notes

December 23, 2020 December 2020, Regular Features No Comments

Time to start thinking

Older residents in our region may well remember the massive flooding in June 1947 when a strong southerly gale, lasting three days, brought heavy rain to Wairarapa. Greater Wellington Regional Council records tell us that the Ruamahanga River was raging with enough water to fill one hundred and fifty petrol tankers per second or the Sky Stadium in Wellington every twelve minutes.  All stop banks in the upper lake area over topped and ten thousand acres of farmland were flooded.  Damage was extensive and stock losses in the thousands.

There can be no doubt that this flood and the threat of more like it was the driving force behind one of the biggest and most ambitious flood management projects in the country; The Lower Valley Development Scheme.

Commissioned in 1964 the scheme resulted in a highly modified lower river system whereby the Ruamahanga no longer flowed directly into Lake Wairarapa but was diverted straight into Lake Onoke.  A huge structure called the Geoffrey Blundell Barrage Gates was built on the flow connecting the two lakes and this was used to control the water levels on both lakes.

Everyone gave a sigh of relief that mother-nature had been controlled and land surrounding the lake could be safely developed.  Nobody worried about the health of the lake because it was, in those days, just considered muddy water and swamp.  There was even a plan to drain its entirety, but fortunately, the cost to do this was considerable and insufficient funding meant it never happened.

So let’s now fast forward fifty six years to 2020 and consider the future of the Lower Valley Development Scheme in a modern world.

The Barrage Gates and the waterways that make up the flood management scheme require resource consents to operate.  These consents will all require renewal in the next ten years amidst a very different environment from when they first came into being.

Yes, the climate is changing and we are warned to expect more flooding but now the environmental value of clean healthy waterways and thriving wetlands is recognised worldwide.   Also let us not forget that Wairarapa Iwi have had their rights to govern Wairarapa Moana restored through Treaty Settlements.  This means that there can be no doubt that the conversations required today for new consents will be very different to those that saw it being built all those years ago.

Since then, millions of dollars have been invested in properties protected by the Scheme which are now some of Wairarapa’s most productive land holdings.  These interests and that of Wairarapa’s economy as a whole will have to be considered alongside Iwi expectations and the ecological considerations needed to restore Wairarapa Moana’s health.

It will not be easy but one thing is certain.  We will need compromise from all concerned if we are to have outcomes that everyone can live with. 

Adrienne Staples

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