Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy says the drought affecting much of New Zealand emphasises the need for irrigation projects to store and distribute water.
After speaking to drought-affected farmers on the West Coast and the Central North Island this week, Mr Guy said water drives New Zealand’s economy just as much as minerals in Australia.
“We don’t have a shortage of water or rainfall in this country, we just don’t have the capacity to store and use that water in dry times. We currently use for irrigation less than two percent of the water that lands on New Zealand.
“Done properly, storage and irrigation schemes can help to better allocate water to benefit both the economy and environment.
“If current proposals are advanced there could be another 420,000 hectares of irrigated land available over time. Research from NZIER suggests exports could be boosted by $4 billion a year by 2026, which would support thousands of new jobs.
“This is why the Government is investing $80 million this year into a new Crown company to act as a bridging investor for irrigation projects. This will involve short term, minority investments to help kick-start regional projects.
“In total, the Government has signalled plans to invest up to $400 million in regional-scale schemes to encourage third-party capital investment. The Government is also supporting development of suitable projects to the prospectus-ready stage through the Irrigation Acceleration Fund.
“Projects will only succeed if they are committed to good industry practice that promotes efficient water use and environmental management, particularly around land-use intensification. Irrigation projects could potentially improve the flow of some rivers in dry summer months.
“After the summer we’ve had, no one can dispute the importance of storing and managing our water better. The impact of drought has been felt right across New Zealand but irrigation projects could make a real difference in the future,” says Mr Guy.
While much of the country is struggling with drought and irrigation restrictions on many rivers, the Opuha Irrigation Scheme proves the value of water storage:
Opuha Water chief executive Tony McCormick said yesterday Lake Opuha was 55 per cent full with a 100 per cent of irrigators still being supplied by the Opuha scheme. . .
“Considering the drought that is prevailing over New Zealand we are one of the few [irrigation schemes] still able to supply 100 per cent of our irrigators.
“This is the benefits of storage – if we were reliant on the river, it would be a completely different story. The river would be under a third of what it is at the moment, if we didn’t have storage.”
We have some storage on our farm. We pump water from the Kakanui River and underground over winter and use if for irrigation in summer.
The dark green think rivers should be left to flow from the mountains to the sea. But if you accept some use of the water is acceptable, taking it when rivers are at high flow and storing it for use when it’s dry is the best way to do it.
It provides not just environmental and economic benefits, the storage lakes like that created by the Opuha dam also provide recreational opportunities for swimming, boating and fishing.