Four years and counting – what’s our water future?

We are at the pointy end of four years of work from the Ruamahanga Whaitua Committee (RWC) and locals will hopefully have noticed there is a round of public meetings being held. The next one is tonight [SUBS – THURSDAY 3 MAY] at 6.30pm at Solway College hall and there’s another on Tuesday 8 May at the Carterton Events Centre, also at 6.30pm. 

The first public meeting was held earlier this week and around 100 people attended. They were walked through a presentation that detailed the process so far and the objectives the RWC wanted to achieve for water in the Wairarapa were explained. 

I found the information useful but if you wanted specifics about how the committee’s objectives would impact on you and your business, it was missing.  This is primarily because the committee is still coming to a consensus position in some cases. 

However, don’t avoid these meetings because they are really important.  Asking your questions will highlight where further work needs to be done.

It was pretty obvious, except to those from Greater Wellington Regional Council (GW) based in the Capital, that three meetings of two hours each was not going to be a thorough engagement process. There are some more meetings proposed now and the first meeting highlighted the gaps in information that people need to be able to give their opinion on whether the RWC is on the right track. 

Notwithstanding the lack of detail, I was heartened by the approach adopted by the committee members in that they are not blindly following the model outputs but are ground-truthing the options. Some of this research and testing will be too late for the report and the associated Plan Change but it means that the RWC is considering impacts. 

For example, one option to improve the quality of Lake Wairarapa is to raise its level, reopen the original channel into the lake, and divert the flood flows. Now this would have major impacts on landowners and users of the lake and surrounding areas. In some places it could cut off the Western lake road and it would flood many wetlands that have now evolved to deal with the modified lake levels, as well as plantings and stream fencing around the lake. It would mean that the recreation area of the diversion would be lost.

The committee considered this and decided that while it looks like a good idea it needs more time and information from on the ground to be able to make a decision with this level of implications. 

This is the right process to follow. Blind adherence to models with associated uncertainties is a pathway to disaster which GW appears to be charging down and this is highlighted by the other article I have published this week on the climate change scenarios. Good on the RWC for not following this GW directive.

Scaremongering and presenting misleading information and using outdated rhetoric is unfair as it reinforces a position that is unjustified. Water politics and climate change are two areas where this is rife.
What people want from the RWC is a clear view on all of the changes, so they can make a decision on whether the benefits outweigh the costs. 

The future of Wairarapa prosperity is held in the RWC committee members’ hands. Changes to water availability and costs hit urban people hard as there is little choice. If the Wairarapa becomes too expensive a place to live, then it is a downward spiral. 

I have been on the RWC case for four years. I can say that the members of the committee have treated the responsibility they have been given with integrity and hard work and while I might not agree with some of the positions they have arrived at, they have been well thought through given the sparsity of information that GW has presented. 

Jamie Falloon - President Wairarapa Federated Farmers