Regional Development Minister Kiritapu Allan cuts the Matawii Dam ribbon while Te Tai Tokerau Water trustee Dover Samuels lends a hand and trust chairman Murray McCully watches on. Photo / Peter de Graaf
A new water reservoir completed in the Mid North this week could be “transformational” for Kaikohe, Far North Mayor Moko Tepania says.
Tepania was speaking at the formal opening of Matawii Dam at Ngāwhā, just
east of Kaikohe, a 13-hectare artificial lake built to boost horticulture on the area’s highly fertile but under-utilised soils.
Northland’s newest lake will also provide a back-up town water supply in times of drought.
The project was driven by the Te Tai Tokerau Water Trust, which hopes it will lift Kaikohe in the same way a government-built irrigation scheme transformed Kerikeri in the 1980s from a provincial backwater into a horticultural boomtown.
“The opening of this dam is going to be transformational for this side of the Mid North,” Tepania said.
“As a council, we’ve bought shares in this to be able to use it as a municipal supply for the township and Ngāwhā village. In two of my four years in local government, we faced significant drought and water shortages in the township with no back-up supply. Well, here it is now.”
As well as providing a secure water supply, the dam would unlock the area’s horticultural potential.
One only had to look at Kerikeri’s growth and prosperity to see what a secure supply of irrigation water could do for a town.
“This is the start of the same for this side of the Far North District, so it’s a very exciting day,” he said.
The dam was funded by a loan from the former Provincial Growth Fund (PGF, now administered by Kānoa, a government agency).
In total, the fund lent $68 million for three water storage projects. The other two, near Dargaville and Waimate North, will be much bigger.
Once full, Matawii will hold just under 750,000 cubic metres of water, the equivalent of 300 Olympic-sized pools.
Regional Development Minister Kiri Allan, who officially opened Matawii Dam last Tuesday, said the three projects would pump new life into the Mid North and Kaipara.
“As a result of the flood-and-drought cycle in Te Tai Tokerau, there needed to be a reliable water source to unlock the potential of the region’s land, which has rich soils and an incredible climate for horticulture,” she said.
The new dam would allow a transition from pastoral farming to higher-value horticulture crops — its first big customer is a Kaikohe berry farm — and increased climate resilience in Northland.
While last summer was particularly wet, the region had to prepare for more frequent droughts and more variable rainfall.
Matawii was also a milestone because it was the first project in the country to be approved under the Covid-19 Recovery (Fast-track consenting) Act, allowing the dam to be built at pace and creating jobs during a time of upheaval.
Murray McCully, a former National minister who chairs Te Tai Tokerau Water Trust, also hoped the reservoir would turn Kaikohe’s fortunes around.
“For years, people have been able to look over the hill at the prosperity the Kerikeri Irrigation Scheme brought that town. The idea is to bring prosperity here to the western side of Northland.”
The entire project had been planned, consented and built in just three years, despite difficult times, he said.
Former Regional Development Minister Shane Jones, who held the PGF’s purse strings when the project was approved, said witnessing the dam’s opening was “enormously satisfying” for him and NZ First leader Winston Peters.
“It reshapes Kaikohe’s socioeconomic landscape. Although I kicked off a host of projects, this one ranks as one of the most transformational. Now we need to see the completion of the Kaipara dam project,” Jones said.
Dover Samuels, a former Māori Affairs Minister, has been involved in the project from its inception.
“What we’ve got here is liquid gold. We’ve got plenty of rain — the idea is to store it for times of need.”
He likened it to the traditional practice of storing kai moana in the pātaka [food storehouse] in times of plenty, to be prepared for times when food was in short supply.
Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson also took part in the opening and seized the opportunity to give McCully, a one-time political rival, a good-natured ribbing.
“He was the dark prince once, now he’s the saviour for Māori. We’re all making changes now,” Jackson said.
Kaikohe is said to have even more fertile soils than Kerikeri, but horticultural development has been hamstrung by the lack of a reliable water supply.
One dam down, two to go?
Kaikohe’s Matawii Dam is only the first of three water storage projects planned by Te Tai Tokerau Water Trust.
By the end of the year, work is due to be completed on a much larger dam at Redhill, on the Poutu Peninsula south of Dargaville.
Known as Te Waihekeora, it will cover an area of 42ha and have a volume of 3.3 million cubic metres — almost five times the size of Matawii.
The reservoir will have a synthetic lining due to the area’s sandy soils.
The third, and biggest, could be built near Waimate North, roughly between Te Ahu Ahu Rd and the Waitangi River.
If it goes ahead, Otawere Dam will hold four million cubic metres of water.
Fast-tracked resource consents have been secured, but construction has not started.
Project relationships manager Chris Frost said the 750,000-cubic metre Matawii Dam was just over half full, even though it only started filling in March.
The water level had another 3.5m to rise.
The earth dam was 24m wide and about 100m thick at the base.
So far, a pipe network had been installed to supply Kaikohe Berries with irrigation water and Ngāwhā Innovation Park with firefighting water.
A further pipeline to Wairoro Stream, Kaikohe’s main water source, was likely to be finished by summer.
In times of drought the stream could be topped up from the dam; in winter, when the stream was running high, water could be pumped up into the reservoir to supplement its natural catchment.