Majority of NZers appreciate irrigation

February 8, 2014

An independent phone poll, commissioned by Irrigation New Zealand, reveals that New Zealanders – regardless of political leaning – see irrigation as good.

The poll also confirms that New Zealanders recognise the link between irrigation and their ability to access cheap and plentiful produce in their supermarkets.

The survey canvassed 1,000 respondents from Auckland, Canterbury, Wellington, Wairarapa and Hawkes Bay to better understand public perceptions of irrigation.

The only one of the areas surveyed  – Auckland, Canterbury, Wellington, Wairarapa and Hawkes Bay – which has significant areas of irrigation is, I think Canterbury.

Irrigation CEO, Andrew Curtis, says he didn’t expect such a positive response to irrigation from the New Zealand public and is encouraged by the results.

“Close to two-thirds overall agree that irrigation is good for New Zealand. This appears to be the case across the political spectrum which reinforces our belief in the need for a bi-partisan approach to irrigation,” he says.

“In an election year our plea is for politicians to come together to develop a strong vision to continue modernising irrigation infrastructure and practice which would drive sustainable development and achieve benefits for all.”

The poll also identified food production, water management and economic growth as major benefits of irrigation. Environmental impact was identified as a concern and there was a call from respondents for irrigation to be used responsibly – for irrigators to limit losses from nutrients as a result of irrigation; for water use to continue to be monitored and for water wastage to be limited.

This can easily be managed through the resource consent process. North Otago Irrigation Company’s requirement for all shareholders to have environment farm plans which are independently audited each year is a good model.

Andrew Curtis says that irrigation is not just a rural issue and that all New Zealanders need to use water efficiently. The focus now needs to turn to urban and rural water storage development. Providing more information about irrigation to the public is also essential he says.

“The survey shows us New Zealand recognise irrigation’s role in producing affordable and diverse food, but they want to know more about how irrigation works, who is responsible and how it impacts the environment,” he comments.

“We are working with agencies, organisations and individuals to minimise the impact of irrigation on our rivers and river flow and water quality limits are being set so that irrigators sustainably manage the water we all value.” . . .

It is disappointing that few recognise the environmental benefits or irrigation. But it’s not surprising when it’s far more often in the news when there are problems than for good reasons such as its ability to improve water quality and protect fragile soils.

There is no mention of the recreational benefits either, such as this one on the Lower Waitaki.

Imagine having key access to a private waterway with a suite of yachts, kayaks and paddleboards available for year-round use.

It’s not the lifestyles of the rich and famous, but an exciting new initiative by a group of Oamaru dairy farmers who have made sailing and kayaking accessible to anyone in their North Otago community.

The farmers, all shareholders of the Lower Waitaki Irrigation Company, saw an opportunity for recreational use of a 5 hectare irrigation buffer pond developed just over a year ago. With the support of the irrigation company, they created the Lower Waitaki Water Sports Trust to progress the concept.

While the pond was built for irrigation storage, Trust Chairman Richard Willans says its proximity to Oamaru, easy access and un-impeded views make it ideal for anyone wanting to learn how to sail or paddle. “It’s the safest place to get out and learn on. You can see the whole pond from any point as it’s just so flat.” Local farmers supported the project as a way to encourage greater interaction between townies and farmers. “We want to get people from the town out into the country,” he says.

Ironically, Mr Willans admits none of the trust’s committee had sailing or paddling experience before getting involved, but local boaties and kayakers have been happy to provide advice. He says they’re enthusiastic about the new water asset on their back door-step which compares favorably to the next closest waterways, the Waitaki Lakes, which take another 40 minutes to reach.

The project to date has cost more than $150,000 with the trust sourcing funding from the irrigation company, local businesses, Meridian Trust, Waitaki District Council and the Otago Community Trust. An A4 bay shed for storage, fencing of the area and a car park were completed just before Christmas and the project’s jewel in the crown is a floating jetty.

For only $50 a year, key holders gain access to the pond as well as the use of 10 yachts, 15 kayaks and two paddleboards stored at the lake. Water safety measures including lifejackets and a fully inflatable motorized rescue boat are also available on-site.  

The Lower Waitaki Irrigation Company granted the trust a long term peppercorn rent for the site as Chairman Chris Dennison says the company sees the project as worthy.

“In constructing the pond we aimed to design structures and controls so they posed no harm to the public and the risk to users would be minimal. Working with the community on this joint venture has produced a great outcome and all this happened very quickly. The pond was only built in late 2012 and the trust’s facilities were finished last month,” he says.

Originally the pond was going to embrace day visitors such as anglers, but advice from a health and safety consultant suggested compulsory membership would safeguard its farmer-backers. You have to be a member of the trust to use the pond; however membership is open to anyone who is happy to abide by a comprehensive list of rules in place to ensure the safety of all users. 

An official opening of the pond will take place in the next couple of months and the trust hopes to bring un-named Olympians to town to launch the project.

The ODT has more on the waters sports park here.


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