The Murupapa community is hoping an iwi-supported proposal to build the country's biggest water bottling plant could revitalise the once-thriving regional town.
Ngāti Manawa has agreed to lease land for two plants that would export 18 million litres of water per day from an aquifer near the Bay of Plenty town.
Some in the community believe this a chance for the community to reverse its economic misfortune of the past.
Murupapa felt the sting of major privatisation in the mid 1980s when its thriving forestry economy collapsed overnight, leaving the town in an economic tailspin it has been unable to recover from.
Now the town has an unemployment rate of 27 percent, more than four times the national average.
Iwi leaders hope that could drastically change if the town becomes home to the country's largest water bottling plant.
They believe the project - estimated to create around 1500 jobs - is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to secure a decent future for their members.
Ngāti Manawa kaumatua Pem Bird said water was now liquid gold.
"We've been on struggle street for a while now since rogernomics - full employment to no employment overnight - so it represents that opportunity for us."
Pem Bird said Ngāti Manawa would have to ensure good kaitiakitanga or guardianship practices were followed.
"We've got to be clear as kaitiaki that it's in favour of the environment, in favour of the mauri of the water... as part of that equation."
Ngāti Manawa and partner company Murupara No 1 are working with several investors, including NZ Aquifer, and other local and overseas interests.
They plan to lodge a resource consent application to the Bay of Plenty Regional Council early next week.
Murupara Community Board chairperson Alison Silcock said feedback about the water bottling plants had so far been positive.
"There is a few queries that they had, but generally they had the confidence that Ngāti Manawa have done their homework and are proceeding in the correct way."
Ms Silcock said the water bottling plants represented the opportunity for locals to earn money and upskill.
"Those that are employed will be earning considerably higher than the minimum wage, I guess it is an opportunity to have more choices if they have more money in their employment."
Muriwai White, who works at Bridgestone Tyres in Murupa, loves the beauty of his rural surroundings and said he wanted to ensure the environment was protected.
"In terms of our water, does it need to be exported out of country? I don't think it should be."
He had seen much suffering in his town after the forestry industry went bust, and was skeptical about what the water bottling plant was promising.
"Jobs were supposed to be guaranteed for over 30, 40 years. They sold out and went privately and own our people lost out on employment.
"Can they guarantee this is going to be good for our people or is it only going to be good for certain people only?"
The project depends on the approval of the Overseas Investment Office, and the regional council's consent. If approved, the water bottling plants will take two years to build.