A Far North iwi is about to start work on a water storage reservoir to head off future droughts and allow dairy pasture to be converted into job-rich horticulture.
Te Rarawa hosted a ground-breaking ceremony at the site in a natural basin on its Sweetwater Farm just north of Ahipara on Friday.
The $4.12 million project is financed by the iwi and a $3m loan from the Government's Provincial Growth Fund with earthworks due to start within weeks.
Once full, the lake will hold 350,000cu m of water, the equivalent of 140 Olympic-sized pools and more than double the size of Kaitaia's Kauri Dam.
The aim is to store winter rain for use in the increasingly dry summer months, allowing the iwi to convert up to 400ha of dairy land into more sustainable, higher-return horticulture.
More than 200 people turned out for Friday's ceremony including Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones and Treaty Negotiations Minister Andrew Little.
Little said it was great to see an iwi which had settled its Treaty claims and was now getting on with the business of growing its economic base to help its people.
''It's good to demonstrate that to other iwi up here as well. This will harness greater value of the whenua and help economic revitalisation across the north,'' he said.
Te Rarawa chairman Haami Piripi said the water storage facility was just one of a series of initiatives which included dairying, forestry and last year's purchase of the adjacent 212ha Bells Produce market garden, with water vital to all of them.
During summer the iwi had provided bore water to Kaitaia when the town supply almost ran dry, but the aquifer was likely to come under increasing pressure so new water sources were needed.
About 40 people would be employed building the reservoir while long-term jobs would be created in everything from water reticulation to horticulture and marketing.
''We are doing this because no one else is doing it for us ... It's a fulfilment of the aspirations our ancestors had when they signed the Treaty of Waitangi," Piripi said.
Converting dairy pasture into gardens would also mark a return to traditional use of the land.
June McCabe, chairwoman of Te Rarawa asset holding company Te Waka Pupuri Pūtea, said the project started two years ago, well before the most recent drought and even before the iwi bought Bells Produce.
The iwi was looking at 18 different crops, from broccoli to lemons, to see which was most suitable and most in demand from wholesalers. An initial 100ha would be cropped to provide the cash flow to pay off the loan.
Since buying Bells the iwi had been hit by a double whammy of drought and Covid, McCabe said.
However, the iwi had come through the ''baptism by fire'' with a boost to infrastructure that would secure water for its investment in horticulture.
Jones said the water storage facility was the first of several planned around Northland.
''We're doing others in Kaikohe and Kaipara but this is the first to move from the pages of the engineering consultants' books to the hands of those bearing picks and shovels,'' he said.
The new lake will be called Te Tupehau or ''the wind-blown sands'', a reference to the dunes that once dominated the area. The name was given by John Paitai on behalf of Ahipara's three marae.
Piripi said the reservoir, and other projects around Northland, were a case of catch-up for the region.
''The north has been deprived of infrastructure for a long time. I'm so pleased to see our MPs bring something home. We're not getting anything over and above anybody else, it's just bringing us up to the same level as the rest of New Zealand.''
Te Rarawa signed its Deed of Settlement in 2012. It was passed into law in 2015.