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Regional Council notes

August 24, 2021 August 2021, Regular Features No Comments

“Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink”.  This well-known line from ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ could have easily applied to the Wairarapa recently.  Unlike the Ancient Mariner though, we weren’t becalmed near the equator but rather inundated by persistent rain, courtesy of a turbulent weather system, causing localised flooding and high lake levels.

It wasn’t the worst storm we had experienced by any stretch of the imagination but it did serve to remind us that we have little control over what nature delivers.  It also reminded us of the fragility of many of the region’s infrastructure assets as roads succumbed to slips and bridges were closed due to high river levels.

The wild weather affected many people in various ways and at a recent meeting around the governance of Wairarapa Moana, Greater Wellington was challenged around its management of the lake levels which are dictated by, amongst other things, a Water Conservation Order.

When I enquired as to the actual water levels Graeme Campbell, Manager of Flood Protection, provided the following comment.

“We will have to check the recorded lake levels to be able to confirm what they were during the period being commented on but there is never any reason for us to elevate those levels unless those in Lake Onoke are elevated due to the closing of the mouth to the sea. The only time we open the gates to elevate levels in Wairarapa Moana is when we are unable to open Lake Onoke and the levels there are so high they are causing problems to those around the Lake. The levels may have been high but it would not be because we kept them high, more it would be as a result of high seas stopping us from opening the mouth and high river flows.”

Managing the water levels in both lakes is definitely a challenge as there are so many aspects to consider.  Originally when the Barrage Gates and the extended Lower Valley Flood Scheme first opened it was all about protecting people and their land from hazardous flooding and that is still the main reason for the scheme at present.  Increasing the spotlight on the environment and importance of wetlands, not to mention Treaty Settlements, is however putting on pressure to change the relationship we have with Wairarapa Moana and its surrounds.

These gnarly issues will need to be addressed as the consents for both the gates and the scheme as a whole require renewing in the not too distant future.  If the directives from central government so far are anything to go by it will be a very different conversation to the one that saw the scheme built in the first place.  The other thing to consider is the proposed scrapping of the Resource Management Act and what will the legislation look like that replaces it?  It will dictate whether or not we have such flood protection as currently exists.

Adrienne Staples

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