When our average rainfall is about 20 inches and that can get down to not more than half that in a dry year we’re loathe to say we’ve had too much rain.
After an unusually wet start to the year and with something like May’s total rainfall coming in 12 hours last Saturday, we’re beginning to think we’ve had enough.
However, although a wet autumn happens now and then we know dry years are more common. We’ve enjoyed the respite from irrigation but it hasn’t stopped the work that’s going on further irrigation development which we know will be needed to insure against the worst effects of the next drought.
In light of this the government’s water policy package, announced by Environment Minister Nick Smith and Agriculture Minister David Carter is very welcome.
• A National Policy Statement on fresh water management to set a consistent, nationwide regulatory framework for setting water quantity and quality limits to govern the allocation and use of freshwater
• An Irrigation Acceleration Fund of $35 million over five years to support the development of irrigation infrastructure proposals to the ‘investment-ready’ prospectus stage which could unlock the economic growth potential of our primary sectors through the development of more efficient and effective water infrastructure, such as storage and distribution
• A Fresh Start for Fresh Water Clean Up Fund to assist councils with historic pollution problems with reprioritised funding of $15 million over two years, and a total clean-up programme commitment of $264.8 million
• The Government will also consider in a future Budget investing up to $400 million of equity in water infrastructure schemes.
Federated Farmers says the water policy, including storage, will cement New Zealand as the ‘lucky country’.
“This Government is serious about playing to New Zealand’s natural competitive advantage and that’s agriculture,” says Lachlan McKenzie, Federated Farmers co-spokesperson on water.
“While Australia digs themselves up, we’re hard at work to convert our rainfall into renewable and sustainable food and fibre exports. Water is behind everything we export and these exports directly pay for policing, doctors, nurses and teachers.
“The $35 million investment in the Irrigation Acceleration Fund over five years shows how a modest investment in agriculture will yield long term results.
“The Opuha Study showed that for every dollar invested in water storage, eight dollars was generated through the economy. If you take that and add it to today’s announcement and future plans, you are talking about a multi-billion dollar uplift.
“The $35 million for the Irrigation Acceleration Fund is easily as significant for New Zealand’s economic development as the Government’s $40 million underwrite of the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund last August. Except every dollar invested in agriculture goes a long, long way.
“It’s also a major vindication for Federated Farmers pushing water storage well before the Prime Minister’s 2009 jobs summit. What we are talking about is a boost for jobs and a boost for the regional and national economy.
“The 2007/08 El Nino influenced drought cost the economy $2.8 billion and is now seen as the probable cause of the last recession. Water storage provides a way to smooth out periods of low rainfall because what we are talking about, is storing from what naturally falls from the sky.
“But we are excited to see the Government openly talking about a potential $400 million worth of equity for the construction of regional-scale schemes that will encourage third-party capital investment.
“This is the first time in years we have seen Government grasp the enormous opportunity to future proof not just our agricultural industries but our towns and cities as well.
“It’s significant because Government is willing to get off the side-lines given it’s an ideal form of a private-public partnership,” Mr McKenzie concluded.
Feds chief executive Conor English issued a statement earlier on the importance of water storage :
Water storage will enable “more fish and less drought” and build resilience into our economy and environment. In the city you don’t have to wait for the rain to fall before you have a cup of tea. In the city, we have access to water at the right place at the right time. In the city we store water, we bank it, we save it on a rainy day so we can use it when it isn’t raining. So why not do more of the same in the country?
It’s not that New Zealand is running out of water, it’s that water is running out of New Zealand.
The Greeks, Romans and Egyptians built their civilisations on water. We know from the Opua dam that the environment, recreational values, the economy and community spirit are all enhanced by using smart water storage strategies. I’ve yet to meet a fish that doesn’t like water 365 days a year.
Government studies of that project tell us that every 1000ha irrigated creates 27 jobs and injects $7.7 million into the local economy. With 30 potential projects covering around 1 million Ha up the eastern seaboard that’s about $7.5 billion extra revenue for the country each year, and 27,000 new jobs. Over a decade that’s $75 billion extra cash for the country, if all potential projects came to 100% fruition, which is unlikely however.
Irrigation has made a significant difference to the economic and social life in North Otago. Strict requirements for environmental farm plans, which are independently audited each year, help ensure that this doesn’t come at the cost of the environment.