Why waste water?

April 16, 2013

A woman once told me that water should be left to flow from the mountains to the sea as God intended it.

I wasn’t quick enough to ask her if God also intended oil to be left in the ground and if so was she going to stop driving a car.

Not everyone uses God as a reason to oppose irrigation but the objections by some of a dark green persuasion have a religious fervour which I don’t understand.

Irrigation has positive economic, environmental and social impacts and the absence of it where it’s needed inflicts a very high cost.

New Zealand has “heaps” of water, but the country is not good at using it efficiently, says Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills, as the country suffers one of the worst droughts in 70 years.

“We let most of it run out to sea in the winter, and the economy gets whacked, (by drought)” Wills said. . .

Government officials now believe the drought could carve as much as $2 billion out of the economy.

After selling off lots of stock because of the lack of grass and feed, farms were now like supermarkets with only half their shelves full.

“It is very hard to make money on that basis,” Wills said and when they restocked it would be at higher prices than when they bailed out and sent stock off to the works.

“It will be a tough few years to go, the impact will go on for some time,” Wills said.

There would be a “good number” of farmers making losses this year, but he hoped only a small number would be pushed to the wall and forced to sell up.

Fertiliser spending had already halted so trucks and planes were not moving and that meant a tough impact on provincial towns.

“Belts will be tightened and chequebooks put away,” Wills said. . .

But for all drought-hit farmers: “If winter comes early it will be tough,” Wills said. “A lot of farmers are still on a knife-edge and a lot will depend on what happens next month, if we get some more rain and more warmth.

“Drought is far from over when the rain comes; that’s just the start of the recovery.”

Farmers had to get through the latest drought, but plan better to get through similar future events, Wills said.

“We have massive potential in this country to sensibly and carefully irrigate vast areas of land,” Wills said.

There were big-scale proposals to help make more parts of the country less prone to drought. . .

These include the $230 million Ruataniwha water storage scheme in Hawke’s Bay.

It is proposed a public-private scheme will build a dam west of Waipukurau that would hold 90 million cubic metres, capable of eventually irrigating 30,000 hectares. At present, just 6000 hectares of land in Hawkes Bay is irrigated.

“That’s on a big scale to be more efficient, so there’s lots we can do,” Wills said, to lessen the impact of drought, including water storage, pasture management and different feed regimes and breeds that cope with drought.

The Ruataniwha scheme would build “sensible” resilience into the economy.

In South Canterbury, the Opuha dam irrigation schemes made the area “substantially” drought proof.

The Wairarapa Water Use Project plans to irrigate more than 60,000 hectares and fuel a boom in farming in the region. But the nine proposed reservoirs would also destroy 35 homes, sever roads and flood land, with local home owners concerned about the secretive process.

But Wills said water storage and irrigation had wider benefits.

“It is not just for farmers. It is for the entire economy,” he said, with the 2008 drought costing the country $2.8 billion. Those costs could be mitigated far more than they are today.

Government studies of Opuha suggest that every 1000ha irrigated created 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. . .

A few decades ago farmers often waited for government help before making decisions. Now there are no subsidies they know they have to make decisions early, and to be prepared for drought.

Wills says most farmers are good at responding to the signals of drought.

He changed the way he farmed dramatically after the last bad drought in 2007.

“This has been tough, but we have got through this drought much better than 2007, because we have done dramatic things,” he said.

In 2007, his farm had 85 per cent sheep and the balance in cattle. This year he had 60 per cent cattle and just 40 per cent sheep. “We massively changed,” he said.

Wills farms in hill country in Northern Hawke’s Bay, but after the 2007 drought he built 60 new dams for stock water, which was a cheap way to store water.

“We learnt last time, when you run out of water, you run out of options,” he said. “We get plenty of rain in the winter, just not enough in the summer”. . .

That’s where storage, for stock water and irrigation comes in.

Why waste water when there’s too much when it’s possible to store it?

If you accept that some use of water is alright, taking it from rivers at high flow and storing it until it’s needed has the least impact on rivers and a big impact on soil health, pasture growth and farming profitability.


Drought confirms need for water storage

April 6, 2013

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.

 


Water makes us lucky

May 10, 2011

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.

It includes:

• 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.


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