'It's massive for us': Kaikohe mayor welcomes water boost

Earlier this year all of Northland was placed under mandatory water restrictions.
Earlier this year all of Northland was placed under mandatory water restrictions. Photo credit: RNZ

Kaikohe locals are wearily welcoming news that the town is to get a new water reservoir.

Earlier this year all of Northland was placed under mandatory water restrictions as the entire region experienced extreme drought.

Construction of a reservoir to serve Kaikohe and surrounding farms is now being fast-tracked but is still at least a couple of years away.

Kaikohe just about ran out of water last summer, entering the strictest possible limits in early February - water was to be used only for drinking, cooking and washing.

"There were all sorts of plans in town, businesses were planning to close. We were right at the highest level of restrictions, and people and businesses were panicking - how were they going to flush the toilets and wash themselves?" Mike Edmonds, the chair of the Kaikohe-Hokianga community board, said.

"I think we had tanks delivered in town, and plans to bring in water by Fonterra tankers. That's how close we came to the water being turned off."

News that a water storage dam has had its consent fast-tracked - and could be finished in a few years - seemed to him bittersweet.

"I think 20 years ago there was a plan to put a reservoir for drinking water just out of town, and the rain came down so the whole thing was shelved," Edmonds said.

"So 20 years later we get the same thing and we nearly run out of drinking water. So yes I have a problem with the Far North District Council not having made provision or steps to making sure we have good drinking water."

He said what's done is done, and it's good that there are now efforts to shore up the supply.

'Getting on with it' - mayor

Far North District Mayor John Carter accepted that things took too long.

"Yep, we could have done it earlier. We're picking it up now, getting on with the job, and it's going to be really progressive."

The 750,000 cubic metre dam will be built in a tributary of the Kopenui Stream, north east of Kaikohe. Its consents were among the first fast-tracked under legislation designed to expedite the country's economic recovery from COVID-19.

It's largely for horticulture purposes but will be used for town supply, including residential, commercial and industrial use.

Water will only be directed from the stream into the dam when it's above its median flow, with the Wairoro Stream also contributing. The stream currently provides most of Kaikohe's water.

Carter said it'll have wide ranging positive effects on the area.

"So it's about jobs, development, employment opportunities, commercial benefits, horticulture - huge. It's massive for us, and in the next 20 or 30 years this is going to be a complete renaissance."

Te Tai Tokerau Water Trust said there could be a GDP increase of $9 million a year, and 60 fulltime equivalent jobs - a 2 percent increase in employment in Kaikohe.

Comment was sought for this story from the iwi Ngāpuhi but they didn't respond.

Another potential source of water - Lake Omapere - sits just north of Kaikohe. But it's in poor condition and prone to blooms of toxic algae.

Businessman Steve Sangster said that's a huge body of water that could eventually become a source of drinking water.

"The elephant in the room is that lake, which is an environmental disaster, and we're doing nothing about it. It's just not happening. It's a leadership vacuum."

The Lake Omapere Trust was contacted but did not want to comment for this story.

Carter said work is happening on the future of the roto, and money's been put down for a study into how its problems can be addressed.

But before any of this, Kaikohe's bracing for another long hot dry summer.