Plans for a huge water-storage scheme in Central Hawke's Bay have been given a big plug by Maori leader Roger Maaka, who believes it will have huge benefits for his people in Hawke's Bay.
He believes it will provide employment, and also investment opportunities for iwi groups.
Dean of the Maori Faculty at EIT and from Takapau, he has links to the four marae in the catchment area of the proposed Ruataniwha dam, and has been a member of the Ruataniwha Water Storage Leadership Group for two and a half years.
"Maori have a lot to gain from this scheme, provided the environment and mauri of the river are not damaged, and at this stage the science I've seen indicates that both will be enhanced," he said.
He believed the Hawke's Bay community was yet to fully understand how much potential there was, and said it took him time to understand its enormity.
"This scheme is huge. It will touch everybody in Hawke's Bay. It is more than storing a bit of water and once we get our heads around that we can start to truly understand what this project can offer our communities."
Professor Maaka says it is vital that local Maori and hapu play a key role in the scheme, as tangata whenua in the area of the water-storage location.
"This is the largest investment ever in this region and therefore local Maori communities must benefit from the scheme at all levels.
"We are more than just cultural advisers, we are tangata whenua and therefore need to be integral to the social and economic planning and operations of this project."
Professor Maaka said that, for Maori, protecting the mauri of the Makaroro River as well as the Waipawa and along the length of the Tukituki rivers was paramount.
"So far the science has shown while there will be effects from the scheme they can be countered and I am anticipating a considerable improvement overall in the health of the rivers."
He said the other protection Maori wanted was an assurance that the benefits would be felt locally: "We don't want any monopolies to come in and establish just one industry or one type of agriculture. We want a mix of uses. We don't want one large organisation to come in and take everything over, taking the benefits away from our local communities.
"In this project we have been involved from the start and we want this to continue. Ultimately we want to be part of developing the management and governance systems put in place around the scheme."
He hoped iwi groups would invest in the scheme and said some had already shown interest.
"Those iwi groups with the capital will invest if they feel it is a wise investment and I hope that does happen, but we have no control over that," he said.
There would be significant employment opportunities, and he was working with local authorities and EIT to look at the possibility of developing programmes to prepare the locals for jobs that would be available when construction started.
Professor Maaka said he would like to think Maori would also be among the professionals, such as engineers and accountants, employed on the scheme.