Environmental and demand studies begin on Wairarapa irrigation project

The Wairarapa valley from the summit of Mt Dick. A new water storage scheme might irrigate 30,000 hectares.

The Wairarapa valley from the summit of Mt Dick. A new water storage scheme might irrigate 30,000 hectares.

Officials and scientists have launched a new wave of studies to help decide whether an irrigation scheme in the Wairarapa will go ahead.

They will investigate the environmental impact of a water storage scheme, and what demand there might be for the water.

The scheme will potentially increase the irrigated area in the Wairarapa from 12,000 to 42,000 hectares.

In June Wairarapa Water Use Project leaders narrowed down the choice from five shortlisted locations to two, Black Creek west of Masterton and Tividale to the town's north.

Wairarapa Water Use Project director, Michael Bassett-Foss, said the new studies aimed to decide if the scheme was feasible by the end of 2016.

Three farmers are being used to study the viability of seven irrigated land uses on different soil types.

The farms will be tested for financial viability under irrigation, for nutrient impacts, and the management and lifestyle implications of changing from un-irrigated to irrigated land uses.  Assessments would be based on actual market conditions for farm produce.

"The Wairarapa valley has many different soil types and each of the three farms has a mix of these. We're looking at land use scenarios that have already been successful in Wairarapa, although a few, such as sheep dairy and apples are currently on a relatively small scale," Bassett-Foss said.

The studies were based on real dryland farming operations because they would provide local information useful to local farmers when considering whether irrigation could work for them.

Officials needed to know more about the biggest risk areas of the scheme - commercial, environmental and geotechnical.

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"If these studies provided enough certainty to proceed, the project would move into a new commercial entity that would raise further funding and the capital needed", Bassett-Foss said.

Geotechnical drilling will be carried out at the Black Creek and Tividale dam sites, to test the suitability of the dam foundations. 

Scientists will also assess the land and water plants and animals of the storage sites and the surrounding areas.

The Ruamāhanga Whaitua committee, a community group, was setting water quality and quantity limits for the catchment. Greater Wellington Regional Council is employing more than 30 experts to help the committee make decisions about future management of land and water. 

 - Stuff


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