Drought reinforces need for storage

January 8, 2015

We woke to mizzle – a misty drizzle – on Tuesday morning.

Holiday-makers wouldn’t have been pleased but we were delighted.

However, by mid-morning the sky had cleared and temperatures were rising.

We haven’t had a decent rain since July and it’s got all the signs of the droughts which in North Otago every few years.

Irrigation schemes using water from the Waitaki River have 99% reliability but takes from the Kakanui River are restricted and will stop altogether if the weather doesn’t break soon.

Further north in South Canterbury it’s drier still.

Less snow melt put less water in the Opuha Dam in spring and those irrigating from it are now on restrictions.

Friends near Waimate ran out of stock water weeks ago and the tanker which comes to collect their milk brings water for them.

There is nothing new about drought but the recurrence reinforces the need for more water storage:

Water restrictions for irrigating farmers look set to follow a similar pattern to the 2012-13 summer, says IrrigationNZ, when drought conditions in the North and South Island wiped more than $1billion dollars from the NZ economy.

“This summer once again highlights the need to fast track alpine-fed* water storage infrastructure in both the South and North Islands. Despite the focus upon irrigation development over the past five years, New Zealand has made very limited progress in this space,” says IrrigationNZ CEO Andrew Curtis. “We have modernised and improved our irrigation distribution systems but have failed to invest in alpine water storage to our detriment.”

(*Alpine-fed water storage refers to dams and water storage lakes that are replenished by rainfall and snowmelt within our alpine environments in contrast to streams and rivers that are fed by foothills rainfall. Alpine rainfall is more consistent and plentiful than foothills and plains rainfall, hence its suitability to provide reliable water supply).

‘We’re losing sight of the prize that reliable alpine-fed irrigation water storage could bring to both the environment and economy. Certainty of water supply allows investment in SMART irrigation technologies that greatly improve nutrient management and production. There are also direct benefits from storage including the augmentation of summer river flows or being able to release flushing flows that cleanse rivers of summer algal growth,” says Mr Curtis.

Irrigation restrictions are now widespread in Canterbury and Otago, with Hawke’s Bay dry but maintaining flows.

One of the worst hit areas is South Canterbury with the Opuha Dam, a foothill-fed river catchment, facing unprecedented water shortages. Opuha’s lake level is of major concern, says Opuha Water Supply Ltd CEO Tony McCormick. “Our situation and outlook have not improved and the lake level continues to drop steadily. Today the lake is at 31% full. We are currently on 25% irrigation restrictions and expect to move to 50% restrictions next week when the lake hits another ‘trigger’ level of 25% full. Our current predictions suggest that the lake could be fully depleted by the end of February.”

Mr McCormick says while the initial problem was a lack of stored water, the situation is now being compounded by very dry conditions being experienced across the South Canterbury region.

The Ashburton River is on full restriction which has forced the Ashburton Lyndhurst Irrigation Company to place shareholders on 85% allocation. However the Rangitata River is currently flowing at a healthy level due to good rainfall in the alps over the New Year, says Jess Dargue, ALIC scheme manager.

While some North Canterbury rivers are on restriction, Amuri Irrigation Limited CEO Andrew Barton says both the Waiau and Hurunui, both alpine rivers, are maintaining flows so scheme restrictions look unlikely in the near future.

While there are no restrictions on major irrigation schemes in the Lower Waitaki at the moment, all fed by the Waitaki River, an alpine river with storages built for hydropower, Elizabeth Soal, Policy Manager of the Waitaki Irrigators Collective says partial restrictions affecting independent irrigators are in effect on hill-fed tributary rivers including the Hakataramea, the Maerewhenua and the Awakino. There are also restrictions (some full restrictions) on some of the South Canterbury Coastal streams and waterways, including parts of the Waihao River, Buchanans Creek and the Sir Charles Creek.

In Otago, supplementary permits off the Kakanui River have ceased with the first minimum flow alert being active, and the river is approaching its absolute minimum flow, which would mean full restrictions kick-in.

Parts of North Otago are extremely dry, with the area receiving a third of the historical average rainfall since August.

“For us down here, it’s much, much drier than in 2012-13. Some are saying it’s the driest it’s been in ten years, so the restrictions will bite even harder,” says Elizabeth Soal.

While the Hawke’s Bay is dry, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council Group Manager Resource Management Iain Maxwell, says that’s not unexpected for the region at this time of the year and irrigation water availability is being maintained.

“River flows are holding well and there are no irrigation bans on the main rivers so farmers are still able to irrigate,” he says.

Drought is costly in financial and human terms. It also degrades water quality, threatens water life and can lead to soil erosion.

Drought is a fact of life for farming on the east coast but the consequences of it would be minimised with more storage to capture the excess at times of high flow for use for farming and maintaining minimum flows in water ways during droughts.


Labour u-turn on HB water storage

May 16, 2013

A big increase in irrigated land is supporting increased agricultural production

The irrigated land area has increased in the past five years by an area the size of lakes Taupo and Te Anau combined, Statistics New Zealand said today.

The total irrigated land in New Zealand increased by 102,000 hectares between June 2007 and 2012, new information from the 2012 Agricultural Production Census shows. “Canterbury had the biggest increase in irrigated area, with an extra 60,000 hectares since 2007 – this alone covers an area the size of Lake Taupo,” agriculture statistics manager Hamish Hill said. Other regions to gain more irrigated area were Southland and Manawatu-Wanganui. This increase in irrigated land has helped support increases in agricultural production.

Total dairy numbers also significantly increased, from 5.3 million in 2007 to 6.4 million in 2012. “The additional dairy cows will produce around four times the total amount of milk that New Zealanders consume each year,” Mr Hill said. Exports of milk powder, butter, and cheese increased by 27 percent in the last five years.

Regions that had significant shifts in dairy numbers between 2007 and 2012 included Canterbury, with an increase of 445,000 dairy cattle, Southland, with an increase of 238,000, and Otago, with an increase of 118,000. . .

That increase in production means a lot more jobs, more resilient and secure communities and more export income.

The experience in North Otago shows that the economic and social gains don’t have to come at the cost of the environment.

You’d think a party which says it supports economic growth and wants more employment opportunities would understand the benefits and support more development, but Labour doesn’t.

Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy says he is shocked at the Labour Party’s u-turn on supporting the Ruataniwha water storage scheme in Hawke’s Bay, despite previously indicating their support.

“The proposed Ruataniwha water storage scheme has the potential to irrigate an extra 25,000 hectares in Hawke’s Bay. This would be a major boost to exports, jobs and growth in the region.

“In October last year Labour MPs Shane Jones and Damien O’Connor visited the site and said it made a “very good case” and that “It is an obscure part of the country that [will cope] with such a large structure.”[i]

“Now they have been over-ruled by Stuart Nash, a rejected ex-MP who says “…Labour will not be funding water storage schemes if elected in 2014…”

“This is a slap in the face for farmers and Hawke’s Bay. I would have thought the severe drought this summer has made the need for this type of project even more obvious.

“The drought has highlighted that we don’t have a water shortage in New Zealand, but a shortage of storage options. We only capture two per cent of the rainfall that falls on New Zealand with the rest running out to sea.

“Water storage can have real environmental benefits. Increased river flows means more water for recreational users in summer, and improved habitats for fish and birdlife.

“This is why former Fish & Game regional manager and senior freshwater ecologist at the Cawthron Institute, Iain Maxwell, has come out publicly in support of the scheme.

“Labour are anti-progress and don’t care about jobs and investment in provincial areas. They are opposed to any new mining, energy and irrigation projects, and want to bring in a capital gains tax and an enlarged emissions trading scheme which would hammer rural communities,” says Mr Guy.

The Government is investing $80 million this year into a new Crown company to act as a bridging investor for irrigation projects. In total, up to $400 million will be invested in regional-scale schemes to encourage third-party capital investment.

The Government is also funding $35 million towards the Irrigation Acceleration Fund to help suitable projects reach the prospectus-ready stage. Last year the IAF and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council jointly funded a $3.3m feasibility study of the Ruataniwha Water Storage Project.

The drought has had a huge economic, social and environmental impact on the regions affected.

Canterbury and North Otago were insulated from the worst effects of the long hot, dry summer because of extensive irrigation.

The need for irrigation in Hawkes Bay should be obvious and it isn’t difficult to put a case for the government to help schemes get underway with for example a loan to cover the costs until the water is fully allocated.

This is just another example of labour saying it wants more growth and jobs but not supporting initiatives that will provide them/

 


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