A crowd of about 50 watches as the new lake, Tupehau, starts filling. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Tupehau will fill a 7.5ha natural depression in iwi-owned farmland off Sandhills Rd, Ahipara. Photo / Peter de Graaf
PD280920NADWATER03.JPGTe Rarawa board member Rihari Dargaville welcomes Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones to the Sandhills Rd site. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Stand back! Minister Shane Jones opens the valve and starts a geyser. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Northland's newest lake has started filling just three months after the site of a water storage reservoir was blessed near Ahipara.
Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones clambered to the bottom of Tupehau reservoir yesterday to open the valve, creating a geyser which will take 40 days to fill the 7.5ha irrigation lake.
Tupehau was built on land owned by Far North iwi Te Rarawa with a $3 million loan from the Government's Provincial Growth Fund (PGF).
The iwi raised the rest of the $4.12m cost and will repay the loan with income from its expanding horticulture operation.
The new lake will store 350,000cu m of water — enough to fill 140 Olympic-sized pools — which will be pumped 3km from the Awanui River when it's at high flow for use in summer when water is in short supply.
More than 50 members of Te Rarawa gathered at the site, on an iwi-owned farm on Sandhills Rd, to watch the water start flowing.
Te Rarawa chairman Haami Piripi said water from the reservoir would allow Te Rarawa to convert up to 400ha of dairy pasture into higher-yielding horticulture.
The iwi already owns the 212ha Bell's Produce market gardens which, among other produce, grows mandarins and the country's first-of-the-season kumara.
Piripi said the area's first manmade lake would be ''good for everybody'' in the Far North and was an example of what could be achieved when iwi, Government and councils worked together.
Above all the reservoir would give certainty and allow the iwi to plan ahead, he said.
There was no point, for example, planting 100ha of kumara if the iwi couldn't be sure of having enough water keep the plants alive in summer.
Jones said the ''ingenious'' project would drive new types of land investment and new jobs, and commended the iwi for taking a risk when he was unable to secure the funding as a koha but had to make it a loan instead.
Jones also used the opportunity to announce PGF grants totalling $18.8m for 11 Māori businesses from Northland to Stewart Island.
Iwi members taking part in Monday's ceremony included Lisa McNab of Diggers' Valley, who said water storage was badly needed in an area increasingly afflicted by alternating drought and flood.
''This will support iwi development in so many ways,'' she said.
Tupehau is lined with just over 7.5ha of 1.5mm-thick, welded high-density polyethylene sheets to keep the water in. It was built in a natural depression, with just one side needing to be raised.
The project would have been completed even sooner but for the difficulty of laying 10m-wide sheets of plastic in a wind that howls almost constantly off Ninety Mile Beach.
A regional council consent allows up to 121 litres per second to be drawn from the Awanui River during high flow.