As the Wairarapa grapples with a drier than usual summer, the agricultural and horticulture sector are having to be more cautious with water use.
According to the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, the region has some of the driest soil in the country, creating the potential for drought.
Arable farmer Richard Kershaw grows and sells more than a dozen types of crops and seeds, a business that requires warm weather and reliable access to water for irrigation.
“It’s a bad perception right now we’re just wasteful users of water, we’re not,” Kershaw said.
“Water is critical to our industry, and we are cautious and careful how we use it.”
Through an irrigation system connected to the Ruamāhanga River, he can take just enough water for the crops that need it.
But if the dry weather continues and river levels drop too low, the Greater Wellington Regional Council can impose restrictions on how much and when farmers can use it.
Kershaw said a lack of storage ability means the region does not capitalise on water during the wetter months, to help during the drier ones.
“You need to have storage for consistency to have water.
“Some years you won’t use it because you have lots of water, but the extremes caused by climate change are going to happen more and more, so we have to put ourselves in a position to handle those extremes.”
Kershaw said a water storage facility would also help with the increased risk of vegetation fire.
“Industries right now are tied down by how much water they can use, they need guaranteed water, the Wairarapa needs it.”
A major Wairarapa dam project, the Wakamoekau Community Water Storage Scheme, was abandoned in 2021 after issues with environmental consent and iwi opposition.
Now, some members of the community want the project to be revived.
Wairarapa MP Mike Butterick said water is an intrinsic part of the local economy but stopped short of fully backing the plan.
“I can’t comment too much on that, but certainty I would support their endeavours to try and bring water, because water is ultimately about jobs and protecting our economy.”
The Masterton-based sheep and beef farmer said there are many techniques farmers can adopt to conserve water.
“It’s a number of things in terms of coping with extended dry periods,” he said.
“It’s developing drought resistant grass, or vines or apple trees, or having the capacity or ability to store on-farm water.”
Another big earner in the region that relies on irrigation is wine making.
But Wilco Lam, a winemaker for On Giants’ Shoulders in Martinborough, said through a dry farming technique, where the vines only use deep underground water, they have reduced water use.
He added that there are tools out there to help the industry with more variable weather patterns being caused by climate change.
“The first thing grape growers will have to think about is being smarter on the application on when to irrigate and how to irrigate.
“It goes further, there are a lot of drought-tolerant root stocks available now to get the industry sustainable enough to reduce water use.”
A fire ban for the whole Wairarapa region was put in place this week.