Like many small East Coast communities, Raupunga, south of Wairoa, is a fraction of what it once was.

But it has been recently recognised for achieving something many of us take for granted, access to clean water.

Rusting pipes on its water supply, a remnant of the railway community it once hosted, forced people to switch to tank water collected from roofs.

When that ran out, many simply couldn't afford to buy trucked-in water

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Wairoa District Council had offered to supply water but at a cost of several thousand dollars per residence. It was unaffordable.

Ten years ago a phone call threw the small community's imperfect water supply into question.

"The Ministry of Health rang up and they wanted to know where the community got their water supply from," Raupunga Water Committee member Charles Lambert said.

"I said 'I don't know if I am qualified to tell you that' because I imagined they wanted it closed down or do something silly like that, so I said 'I will call you back'.

"So I asked some of our kuia and kaumātua around here and they said 'don't tell them any bloody thing'.

"But the real aim was to tell us about this drinking water assistance programme – what was available."

The Raupunga Water Committee was formed to take up the Ministry of Health's partial funding and veteran Māori activist and civil engineer Rata Pue regularly drove seven hours from Taranaki to voluntarily guide the project.

In 2012, the project was approved but Mr Pue was killed in a tractor accident at Parihaka Pā.

The Health Ministry assumed the water scheme would cease without his guidance, but the committee persevered.

Meanwhile, the situation worsened - a more expensive and resilient scheme was needed - and the project stalled.

A change came when engineer Leigh Aitken joined the team, enabling them to do much of the work themselves.

"One of the goals was to create a business unit that would exist after the completion of this project," Raupunga Water Committee member Guy Taylor said.

"Three or four skilled workers that could then be utilised throughout the area in farming, civil engineering and things like that."

Today Raupunga residents pay a similar amount for their water as Wairoa residents, about $400 annually.

The project recently won the Commitment to Reducing Inequities Award at the Hawke's Bay District Health Board Health Awards, but the real prize is a community safely quenching the thirst of generations to come.

Made with funding from