The Wairarapa Water Use project has gained government funding towards a $2.5 million feasibility study.
Greater Wellington Regional Council set up the project to develop long-term infrastructure in rural areas to provide water storage for irrigation.
Council will pay for half of the investigation, while the rest will be made up out of the Government's Irrigation Acceleration Fund.
A decision will be made on whether to continue with a full feasibility study in December next year.
Council chairwoman Fran Wilde said the funding approval signalled the national significance of the project, which had the potential to be one of the region's biggest economic development projects. She stressed the money would not be available if the regional council did not make a contribution.
"The project intends to provide consumers with more certainty of supply, but in an environmentally sustainable way and by adopting a broader regional approach to the challenges of water storage and use."
The project will investigate how water infrastructure could be developed in Wairarapa and options include a series of storage lakes around low-lying foothills of the valley.
Federated Farmers Wairarapa president Jamie Falloon said it was great news for the region.
"Economically, it makes farming a lot easier if you know you've got water; depending on the cost of it," he said.
"Reliable water means reliable grass growth, and, therefore, reliable income."
Masterton Mayor Garry Daniell said the project would not be affected by any changes to local governance.
Wairarapa leaders met with Local Government Minister David Carter last week, who assured them any government money used for the project would be available to a Wairarapa Unitary Authority if this was the future structure.
The three district councils also contribute $500,000 to the Wellington Regional Strategy fund each year.
"It's possible some of those funds may be used for the project in the future," Mr Daniell said.
It was previously reported by the Times-Age that the project could create close to 10,000 full-time jobs, not including construction. About 10,000 hectares of the valley are already irrigated but the project could enable this to increase to between 30,000 and 50,000 hectares.
Ministry for Primary Industries fund manager Kevin Steel said the new investigation work will be a platform for balanced decision-making.
"This feasibility study will provide good information to assist decisions about how best to develop the water infrastructure while providing for the wider community's interests."