Water schemes win

March 14, 2010

Two Canterbury irrigation schemes are among the winners in a competition for projects judged to have the potential to make $1 billion each in sales within 20 years.

Two other projects, a central-city village for international students and a whitebait-farming proposal, were also recognised.

The $150 million Central Plains Water Enhancement Scheme (CPW), now a cut-down irrigation project after widespread community opposition, and the Hurunui Water Project, were judged as having big potential.

Together, the two want to irrigate more than 100,000 hectares of farmland in central and north Canterbury.

They involve land acquisition and the construction of canals and a dam.

The competition, which drew 18 entries, was the brainchild of University of Canterbury vice-chancellor Dr Rod Carr.

The winners receive up to 50 days free professional help each, worth about $140,000, to further project development and confirm feasibility.

The competition was a great idea and it’s no surprise that irrigation schemes were among the winners.

The benefits and costs are high for farmers and it takes them many years to get real returns on their investment. But the returns for the people who work for, service and sell to farmers are immediate and so are the boosts to the wider economy.

Irrigation can have both positive and negative impacts on the environment. It will almost certainly lead to an increase in dairying which will concern some people. But dairying in itself isn’t a problem.

The best comment on this I’ve read comes from Daniel Collins at Sciblogs.

In a post entitled It’s Not US or the Cows, worth reading in full, he writes:

In any case, it is the pollution that is the problem, not the cows. More intense dairying would likely lead to worse water quality all else being equal, but there is no need to assume all else will be equal. In conjunction with regional planning to limit the extent of dairying, there is room for on-farm management practices to improve. The question is both how many cows and how to manage them.

Increased concern about the environmental impacts of irrigation and dairying have led to a lot of improvements in management.

One of the conditions for the North Otago Irrigation Company’s consent was that every shareholder must have an environmental farm plan which is independently monitored.

It works well to protect and enhance the health of soil and water and something similar could be adopted in Canterbury to ensure that the economic gains from irrigation don’t come at the expense of the environment.


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