Local Government Magazine
3 Waters

Essential Freshwater plan

Time for practical & affordable solutions

IrrigationNZ CEO Andrew Curtis warns that consultation with farmers on the ground will determine whether a new water policy has stickability at a regional level.

He says that, like all New Zealanders, farmers want to see healthy waterways.

“The latest data on river quality shows improvements are occurring thanks to collaboration between regional councils and farmers. But there is still more work to be done.”

To speed up the process, the government recently released a new Essential Freshwater plan. The Essential Freshwater: Healthy water, fairly allocated report outlines the government’s aim to have new rules in place by 2020 to stop waterway degradation and achieve noticeable improvements in freshwater quality within five years.

Andrew argues that new policies will only result in changes if people on the ground implementing them understand them and can take action.

“This means that consultation with those whose livelihoods will be affected by new rules – our nation’s farmers – will be needed for the new plan to be successful. Farming is our biggest export sector. So, it is in everyone’s interests that it remains productive to help fund our schools, hospitals and police and to ensure regional economies are prosperous.

“To its credit, the government has set up advisory groups to help with its plan. These groups are heavy on ecology scientists and do have council representation. It will be essential that the ideas produced are tested to see if they are practical and affordable for growers and farmers.”

Andrew says it is also important to understand the impacts of national decisions on water allocation and water consent reviews at a regional level on local communities.

“In Hawke’s Bay, for example, a proposal to significantly increase flows in local rivers as part of a Water Conservation Order means that local orchards and wineries may have water bans in place for months over summer. Growers say their businesses could be forced to close if they can’t access water to produce fruit.

“This has prompted fruit and vegetable processor Heinz Wattie’s to say that the jobs of its 1600 employees may also be at risk. The region’s economy is driven by agriculture and tourism, and both industries depend on orchards and wineries. Changes to water availability can have much wider impacts on communities, jobs and regional economies.

“In a number of regions, councils and communities have spent a lot of time working through water allocation and quality issues and we are starting to see progress on water quality as a result of this. So, let’s hope this work is not undone by new rules.”

Citing Otago as an example, Andrew says minimum river flows are also likely to increase due to regional council policies, meaning farmers will have to draw less water from rivers.

“To make better use of water, many farmers want to replace flood irrigation with more efficient centre pivot systems. But the costs of doing so run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for an average farm. To make this investment, farmers need to have certainty about what the regulations will be.

“Ever-changing rules discourage farmers from spending on improved technology, which would be a pity because irrigation modernisation results in more efficient water use and less nutrient leaching into waterways.

“It is good to see the government supporting Farm Environment Plans and looking at water storage and managed aquifer recharge as an option to solve water scarcity issues.”

He adds that the government also sees irrigation development as a way to improve the productivity of Maori land.

• To download a copy of the Essential Freshwater: Healthy water, fairly allocated report go to bit.ly/EssentialFreshwater

This article was first published in the December 2018 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.

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