Rural round-up

October 11, 2019

Anger at slow compensation process –  Sally Rae:

”I think I would rather have cancer than Mycoplasma bovis.”

That was the hard-hitting opening line in a letter from North Otago farmer Kerry Dwyer, to Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor last month.

Mr Dwyer and his wife Rosie were among the first farmers affected by Mycoplasma bovis when their property was confirmed as having the bacterial cattle disease in August 2017.

It was in March last year that Mr Dwyer first publicly expressed fears over the compensation process.

Now, more than two years after having all their cattle slaughtered due to the disease, and a year after lodging their last compensation claim, they were still waiting for settlement.

But after the Otago Daily Times contacted MPI yesterday, a spokesman said director-general Ray Smith had requested an urgent review of the Dwyers’ claims and MPI would pay what was owing by the end of the week. . . 

Hurunui mayor blames public opinion for ‘unattainable’ water targets – Emma Dangerfield:

An outgoing North Canterbury mayor says “public opinion and impatience” are driving proposed water quality targets that will be impossible to meet.

Environment Minister David Parker last week released the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater Management and the Government’s rewritten National Policy Statement, which aims to improve New Zealand’s waterways, crack down on farming practices and increase regulation. The plan includes a mandate for councils to have freshwater plans in place by 2025.

In a statement published on the Hurunui District Council’s website, mayor and farmer Winton Dalley said the Government was responding to the “huge pressure of public opinion and impatience with what in their view is … [a] lack of progress to return all water to a quality, which – in many cases – is unattainable.”

Water quality issues in the district were not only caused by rural and urban pollution, he said. . . 

Irrigation achievement celebrated:

The prosperity of the Mid Canterbury district stems from the 67km-long Rangitata diversion race (RDR), which started from humble beginnings with workers using picks, shovels and wooden wheelbarrows in its development at Klondyke, Mid Canterbury in 1937.

It has gone on to supply water to the district’s plains and helping to generate social and economic benefits to Mid Cantabrians, from the people on the land, to those in its towns and villages.

The engineering feat required for its development was celebrated with new signage provided by the Mid Canterbury RDR community and those connected to the system.

They included farmer and RDR Management Ltd (RDRML) chairman Richard Wilson, irrigation scheme representatives, members of the engineering fraternity and other invited guests such as ”RDR Kid” Viv Barrett (87), who, at age 5, lived with his family in the RDR camp at Ealing as his father Jim was the first RDR raceman. . . 

Teenager creates company to get high-speed network to rural communities – Rebecca Black:

A Whanganui teenager has big plans to get fibre internet speeds to rural customers.

Alex Stewart, 14, says rural communities are paying fibre prices for copper speeds and face a huge bill to get access to faster internet.

Stewart was staying at Turakina Beach, 20 minutes south of Whanganui, when he got talking to frustrated locals who had been in touch with a telecommunications company about getting cell phone coverage and better internet. . . 

Painting cows like zebras keep flies at bay – study – Angie Skerrett:

A new study suggests painting cows with zebra stripes could be the answer to the age-old problem of fly attacks on livestock, and bring economic and environmental benefits.

Biting flies are serious pests for livestock, which cause economic losses in animal production. 

However a new study by Japanese researchers and published in PLOS One found that black cows painted with zebra stripes are nearly 50 percent less likely to suffer from the bites.

Researchers used six Japanese Black cows with different paint designs in the study. . . 

African Swine Flu just a stone’s throw from Australia :

The deadly virus which has claimed one quarter of the world’s pig population is now perilously close to our northern border.

A disease that has wreaked havoc and caused mass devastation to the global pig population, has now spread from China to other parts of Asia, including the Philippines, North and South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and now Timor-Leste.

Outbreaks of African Swine Fever also continue to be reported in eastern Europe as the deadly spread shows no signs of slowing. ASF is reported to have already wiped out a quarter of the world’s pigs, and the risk of it infecting pigs in other countries in Asia and elsewhere remains a serious threat. The disease is known to kill about 80 percent of animals which become infected. . . 

 


Opuha shutdown reinforces need for more storage

February 25, 2015

The Opuha dam has provided water for irrigation, recreational users and wildlife since 1998.

But irrigation has to stop today:

. . .The Opuha Dam serves 250 farmer-shareholders, who have 16,000ha under irrigation.

“We have reached the bottom of the bucket,” Opuha Water chief executive Tony McCormick said in circular to members. By Wednesday the lake will be at 371m with a little under 1.5 per cent storage remaining, he said.

As part of an agreement to reduce the minimum Opihi river flows in early February, Opuha Water will cease irrigation and the last remaining storage will be used to try to keep the river flowing for the next 10 to 12 days, he said.

The lake level is falling at just over half a per cent a day, he said.

“There have been several small rain events in the area over the last fortnight but they have had very little effect on inflows to the dam and in the catchment generally,” McCormick said. . .

The lack of water will have environmental, economic and social implications and reinforces the need fro more water storage, a need that will be partially met by a new storage lake:

A man-made lake that could hold enough water to fill 12,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools is planned to supply more reliable irrigation in Canterbury.

The lake would likely hold 30 million cubic metres of water with storage options ranging from 5m/cum to 100m/cum and was expected by managers of the Rangitata Diversion Race (RDR) to go to the resource consent stage by the end of the year.

A 30m/cum development would cost $120 million and depended on irrigator and bank backing and the support of the community and nearby neighbours.

RDR managers said initial support was from farming, hydro, environmental, Maori and government groups. They have been told to “hurry up” and get on with the project as drought hits farmland around Lake Opuha in South Canterbury.

A large lake would open up the possibility of supplying water to South Canterbury farmers as well as the four irrigation schemes and hydro-generation the RDR has serviced over the past 70 years in Mid Canterbury.

The lake would be developed on Ruapuna farming land next to the Rangitata River, about 10 kilometres  downstream of the RDR canal intake, most of which was already owned by the company.

RDR management chief executive Ben Curry said the business case for building a large water storage pond had become more compelling because of drought on Canterbury’s east coast.

He said RDR managers had been working on the project for four years, buying the farm in 2009, and believed the time was right to move forward.

“We only have to look at what is happening with the Opuha to see the need for water storage and we are looking at creating something which could have a regional context to it. We could build a relatively modest storage pond of 10m/cum which would serve it’s purpose and we could get a digger in and get the job done, but … there is opportunity because of the locality we have chosen on the boundary between South and Mid Canterbury that could serve the region.”

Curry said the pond could relieve some of the pressure from rivers off Lake Opuha and help recharge lowland streams and aquifer water.

The project would likely be funded mostly by debt, he said. . .

Irrigation New Zealand is supportive:

Tomorrow’s early cessation of irrigation from Lake Opuha reinforces the need for further storage infrastructure like the Klondyke Storage Pond proposal being launched today by the Rangitata Diversion Race Management Ltd (RDRML), says IrrigationNZ Chairwoman Nicky Hyslop.

“It’s devastating for South Canterbury that Lake Opuha can no longer support irrigation for the remainder of the season. The Opuha Water Team has done everything they can to eke out supply, but without rain they have no further options and any remaining water will need to be diverted to maintain the health of the river,” says Mrs Hyslop.

“Opuha’s early shut-down reinforces again how water-short South Canterbury is and illustrates the need for a wider network of water storage infrastructure across the region to enable reliable water supply during dry periods,” she says.

“IrrigationNZ applauds today’s announcement by the RDRML of its intentions to build a storage pond at Klondyke in the Mid Canterbury foothills. As well as improving security of supply for Mid Canterbury irrigators, this project has the potential to deliver water south which would be of huge benefit to South Canterbury farmers,” says Mrs Hyslop.

“IrrigationNZ supports further investigation of this proposal as New Zealand needs to be thinking laterally about how we redistribute water resources in the most effective manner. The RDRML Klondyke Storage Pond project is a fantastic first step in this direction,” says Mrs Hyslop.

I ran into a friend with a business in Oamaru yesterday. She said they had been expecting a slow-down and it had come as a result of the lower dairy pay out and the drought.

Most North Otago irrigation schemes are fed from the Waitaki River which gives 99% reliability but some people rely on other schemes which have imposed restrictions and not everyone in the district has irrigation.

In South Canterbury, the impact of the drought has been more severe because of wider irrigation restrictions.

Droughts are an ongoing concern for farmers on much of the South Island’s east coast and increase water storage is the answer to that problem.


Irrigation’s not just for farmers

January 20, 2014

IrrigationNZ chief executive, Andrew Curtis, shows irrigation isn’t just for farmers:

You finally made it out of the office and hit the road for a much-deserved break. Whether you towed a boat, carried mountain bikes or packed the caravan or tent for a quick escape this summer, chances are you took advantage of irrigation infrastructure.

While most of us think of our waterways as natural, the reality is many popular water destinations have been modified to support farming or energy production.  Your annual summer holiday just as likely included a dip in a river or lake that helps generate electricity or waters crops as it was swimming at the local pool.  

Increasingly farmers and irrigation scheme managers are incorporating recreation interests when they design new systems. Event managers and community groups are also recognising the unique potential of irrigation canals and storage ponds for fundraising and thrill-seeking. 

The challenge for those managing irrigation infrastructure is ensuring holiday makers and adrenalin junkies can be safely integrated into commercial operations, without impeding vital irrigation flows. We profile several irrigation schemes working with their communities to provide access to water for activities other than irrigation.

New Zealand’s largest irrigation scheme, the Rangitata Diversion Race (RDR) is also one of our oldest. Depression-era labour was used initially to build the race which officially opened in 1945.

Several Mid Canterbury community groups already take advantage of the RDR’s 67km of canals – most visibly the ‘Peak to Pub’, ‘Big Day at the Office’ and Frostbusters’ multisport races. 

And this Easter, a new endurance horse-riding event is likely to see riders crossing the canals as part of 36 hours on horse-back in the district.

Ben Curry, CEO of the RDR, says it’s a balancing act providing access, as health and safety as well as operational and insurance issues, need to be taken into account. But the company tries to find ways to accommodate requests.

While swimming is not allowed due to multiple potential hazards within the water (some of which are submerged), fishing, duck-shooting and cycling along the canals are permitted. A local tourism company has just been given approval to offer high-end cycle tours along the RDR close to the foothills, and the Methven Walkway, created by the local Lions group and a well-used visitor attraction, meanders along sections of the race. 

“We had hoped that the RDR would have been included in the National Cycleway network. It’s still an aspiration,” says Mr Curry.

Lake Opuha is the jewel in the crown when promoters cite wider benefits from irrigation. The man-made 700 hectare lake not only provides water for 230 farms, but as the most accessible lake in South Canterbury, is a magnet for local boaties, kayakers and rowers. 

While rainbow trout were found in Opuha River before the dam was built, brown trout and salmon have since been released into the lake.

Opuha Water Ltd CEO Tony McCormick says since it was filled in 1998, the lake has been a popular destination for anglers and boaties.

His irrigation company supports community use of the lake and its related systems where it can.

Fundraising events are common and one of the most colourful is South Canterbury Diabete’s annual duck race held in an irrigation channel on Arowhenua Road. Fairlie Lions has run a duathalon and mountain bike event around the lake for the past two years and before that hosted fishing competitions. Local farmer and Lions member Murray Bell says the lake is the perfect setting. “It’s a great facility and the location is good as it’s convenient.” As a shareholder in the scheme, Mr Bell says he, like other farmers who supported the lake’s development, is buoyed by its success.

“The duathalon is such a small part of it. Any weekend you are there it’s crowded with boats and in the early mornings you watch the rowing clubs turn up.”

Keith McRobie is President of the Timaru Rowing Club and can vouch for Opuha’s value.

“We’ve used the lake pretty much since it was filled. We are quite limited in Timaru with just a 1km stretch of water so it was a Godsend to have something developed just 45km from town.”

Opuha is pretty much rowable year-round as it is sheltered and accessible during most weather conditions, says Mr McRobie.

Having access to the lake for the past decade has improved South Canterbury’s rowing results. “The schools here punch above their weight at a regional and national level. Every year we have one or two national representatives and Opuha is part of the reason.”

Discussions are underway with the irrigation company and supporters about dedicated facilities for rowing at the lake. Currently three Timaru schools leave boats stored on local farmers’ properties but ideally a purpose-built storage shed and rowing ramp will result in the future.

“We’ve had some discussions with the company and we’re very keen to pursue. If you compare us with Auckland or any other major city, 45 minutes is not really a problem,” he says.    

The Lake Opuha Users Group was created when the lake was first formed to initiate extra amenities for visitors and recreational users of the lake.

Committee member David Williams says their biggest project to date has been the building of a boat ramp to create safe access. Before that up to 150 cars would converge on a 300m section of lake edge that offered the easiest access. Now 90% of traffic has been redirected to the boat ramp greatly reducing the potential for mayhem, he says.

As a farmer himself, Mr Williams says the biggest challenge now is ensuring the lake’s recreational popularity doesn’t impact on its delivery of water to shareholders. “One of the biggest problems for Opuha in the future could be the issue of minimum flows. Some of the recreational fraternity would like to see fluctuations in river flows. But at the end of the day it is the irrigators who are paying,” he says.

Another issue, not created by recreational use, but occasionally compounded by poor behaviour by some boaties, is the spread of didymo. The irrigation scheme and recreational users will need to work together to tackle the algal bloom problem in the future, says Mr Williams.

“Irrigation has provided a great facility by putting this lake here. For the recreationalists there has been a big spin off. At the end of the day it’s been very positive for them and the economic value to our community is also positive.”

The Lower Waitaki Irrigation Company prides itself on a strong relationship with its community, says Chairman Chris Dennison.

“We’re very keen to add benefits to the whole community and not just through the economic driver that irrigation brings,” he says.

 Among its initiatives is the ‘Take A Kid Fishing’ day which the company resurrected in conjunction with the Waitaki Irrigators Collective after an absence of many years. 

Using a shareholder’s attractive tree-lined pond already stocked with trout, 700 salmon were released resulting in very happy young anglers, says Mr Dennison. “The farmer kept his pond open for several weeks after the event to allow the public to fish in a controlled environment with pretty good odds. For young people fishing is about catching fish and most of the kids went away with something for dinner.”

The company has also worked with a local high school to provide access for a fast water kayaking course. Kayaking experts created the course on the scheme’s intake channel by placing obstacles within the stretch of turbulent water and hanging gates from overhead wires. “The effects for us are minimal and the school has ended up with a really good course with easy access,” he says.

Irrigation schemes are developed, and largely paid for, by farmers but the benefits from them are shared well outside of farming.

The economic spin-off helps those who work for and service farms.

Environmental benefits include protecting fragile soils from wind erosion and enhanced flows in natural waterways.

And then there are the recreational opportunities outlined above.


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