PGF pumps millions into Wairarapa water projects – but who will own the water?

The providers of public handouts are back in action and the Point of Order Trough Monitor has sounded its first alert for 2020.

Wairarapa water projects are the beneficiaries of a $7.11m boost from the Provincial Growth Fund, announced this morning by Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Regional Economic Development Fletcher Tabuteau.

This is a significantly greater lump of money than the PGF investment of $800,000 which Tabuteau announced in May last year for Wairarapa Water Limited to investigate the development and construction of community water storage.

The money was to help the company to review and update a 2015 pre-feasibility study which investigated six potential water schemes in the region and to align the study to recent climate change projections and current Government policies regarding small-scale water storage schemes for communities.

Today Tabuteau said two projects will receive funding:

  • A $7 million investment in Wairarapa Water Limited for the pre-construction development of water storage (and associated distribution) infrastructure at the Wakamoekau site in the Wairarapa.
  • $110,000 to the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency Ltd led by the Wairarapa Water Resilience Committee to develop and produce a Wairarapa Water Resilience Strategy.

Tabuteau has become fluent in speaking the language of Beehive largess:

‘PGF funding for these two water projects is essential to help unlock opportunities for the Wairarapa, attract new industries to the region, create more jobs, and future-proof the local economy,” Fletcher Tabuteau said.

 “Water is a critical enabler for the Wairarapa economy and supply is becoming increasingly under threat due to increased demand caused by a growing population and economy in the region, as well as rising temperatures, declining rainfall and river flows, as a result of climate change.”   

 The 7 million PGF investment will fund procurement, consenting, planning, engagement and commercialisation of a community-based water storage and distribution infrastructure, following on from the PGF-funded pre-feasibility study announced in May last year.

“Once finished, this project will provide a resilient fresh water supply for the area leading to many benefits such as providing support to sustainable agriculture and horticulture industries, and help fill domestic demand for fresh water during dry seasons,” Fletcher Tabuteau said.

The ‘Wairarapa Water Resilience Strategy’, led by the Wairarapa Water Resilience Committee, is being given support of $110,000.

This project will create a framework to approach future planning for water management, with a particular focus on mitigating the impact of climate change.

“Significant work has been done on individual components of the supply, storage and use of water in Wairarapa but this work has not previously been brought together into a comprehensive plan through a broad resilience lens.  Business as usual is no longer an option to address the single most important need facing the region.”

Tabuteau did not raise the fascinating question of  who owns the water.

We hear from the New Zealand Herald that Waitangi Tribunal claimant Maanu Paul is preparing a case for the High Court to determine whether native title in freshwater exists under New Zealand common law.

A Waitangi Tribunal report in August last year found Māori have rights over freshwater in New Zealand and Paul said the tribunal had recommended the case be taken to the High Court.

The Ardern  government maintains that no one owns water but Paul said this view will be challenged.

The Herald report quotes Paul on this policy:

“That is based on the principle view that we have and the evidence that we have to hand at the moment, which says that there is no law that has extinguished Māori customary rights to water.

“The test case will be ‘do Māori still have customary rights to their water’ and the answer to that as far as we are concerned is yes, because there is no law – we can’t find a law – that has extinguished those rights.”

We learned a bit more about the Wairarapa water plans – and the other public sums pumped into them – from a Stuff report which followed the PGF funding announced last year.

Wairarapa Wairarapa Water Ltd is investigating a $100 million scheme northwest of Masterton designed to alleviate the region’s water needs in the shadow of ominous climate change predictions.


 The Greater Wellington Regional Council and the Crown Irrigation Fund have already sunk $8 million into investigating a Wairarapa scheme.

Wairarapa Water Ltd chairman Tim Lusk said at that time the central government’s support was important in gaining the confidence of communities and investors.


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