Iwi speak out as PGF announce $7M for next phase of irrigation project
There has been strong interest in Rangitāne’s position following the Provincial Growth Fund announcement of $7M for the Wairarapa Irrigation proposal.

Rangitāne want to make it clear that there has been no decision yet to build a dam. Instead this grant will enable Water Wairarapa to take the proposal to the next level to see if it stacks up economically, environmentally, socially and culturally. If it does, then they will still have to apply for a consent to build.

Rangitāne have participated in the investigative phase of this project for the past eight years. As iwi, we sit in the middle of the debate advocating for the needs of whānau who rely on a prosperous economy for jobs and income weighed up heavily against our role as kaitiaki and champions for Papatūānuku.

Up until now the focus has been on whether or not a stored water solution might be economically viable. More recently the climate change evidence has seen a need for greater consideration of water resilience as Wairarapa faces the threat of harsher summers and droughts. Water is a critical resource and we must get this right.

Rangitāne have made it clear to Water Wairarapa that a proper cultural impact assessment needs to be carried out and appropriately resourced. The process to date has lacked any credible expertise from a Māori lens and now is the right time to bring that expertise in. The PGF grant should be used to make that happen. We also see the need for a comprehensive water resilience strategy that strongly reflects the values and aspirations of tangata whenua.

There has been a strong outcry from Wairarapa whānau and hapū about this announcement; the implications it will have on water quantity and quality, the position of iwi and the lack of engagement by iwi with our community. Rangitāne is committed to meeting with whānau and bringing those voices into the discussion.

A climate change resilience strategy is a priority and Rangitāne seek practical ways of adapting to the changing climate that are sustainable and won’t relegate all the environmental efforts already underway to restore the health and well-being of our waterways and moana.

Over the last two years Rangitāne have led a strong challenge on the proposed Natural Resources Plan that sets the rules for all land users in the region. We won some major concessions in this process that will require all land users and users of natural resources to minimise and mitigate their impacts on the environment and to consider mana whenua values and aspirations. The proposed stored water proposal will have to meet these expectations too if it wants to successfully gain a resource consent. This has been further reinforced by the release of the government’s National Policy on Freshwater Management.

We have also been a key part of the Wairarapa Economic Development Governance which has supported a number of local initiatives such as supporting rangatahi into employment, rebuilding our primary skills sector, the dark skies project, Wairarapa Food Hub, Aviation and others.

So this next phase is a critical time for all. We need to ask the right questions about what is proposed; what are the impacts, what is important to mana whenua, what are the alternatives, and most importantly what do we want our place to be like for future generations.

Jason Kerehi is Chair of Rangitāne Tū Mai Rā and represents Rangitāne on the Wairarapa Economic Development Governance Board.