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IrrigationNZ says Gov action for healthy waterways holistic

IrrigationNZ is pleased to see the Government’s freshwater proposals do not apportion blame for waterway degradation solely on the primary sector – but rather is an all-encompassing solution which includes direction for urban development as well as rural land and water.

“This will put a stop ‘finger pointing’ and is a step toward New Zealand taking a strategic and holistic approach to managing this precious resource for the benefit of all,” says Elizabeth Soal, chief executive of IrrigationNZ.

“We are particularly relieved to see that the benefits of irrigation have been recognised as an important contribution freshwater makes to the country’s well-being and resilience to climate change,” says Ms Soal.

“The signals are, however, serious if we look at what is being proposed in terms of minimum flows, regulations for water measuring technology, new nutrient bottom lines, water quality and timelines to implement this - but we are prepared to work with government and sector stakeholders to get the outcome fair and right,” she says.

“What the proposals from government do, is provide an opportunity for all New Zealanders to scrutinise, and then reset, the values we have around water so that we can balance cultural, economic, farming, recreational and social benefits with of course, respect for the water,” says Keri Johnston, chair of IrrigationNZ.

Initial review of the proposal
IrrigationNZ notes that Farm Environmental Plans (FEPs) have been put forward as a key way to improve land and water management - irrigation schemes have been leading this work and already have FEPs.

In addition, the suggested new nutrient bottom lines are already in place in some areas as a result of regional planning, so no changes will be felt there. “However, need to have a closer look at what the proposed bottom lines mean for areas which do not yet meet requirements, the devil, as they say, will be in the detail,” says Ms Soal.

IrrigationNZ is supportive of the freshwater commissioners and tangata-whenua nominated representatives joining a new panel to assist councils implementing new NPS-FM plans by 2025 triggered by a RMA Amendment Bill. “That is a tight deadline so councils will need all the help they can get,” says Ms Soal.

IrrigationNZ will review the documents in greater detail over the coming days to determine the best way forward for its 3500 members, however, the organisation notes the following from the proposals:
• recognition of irrigation in supporting a sustainable economy and recognition of farmers and growers who have reduced their impact on freshwater
• agrees that for long term viability, action is best taken on a catchment-by-catchment approach with communities leading with guidance from regulation and freshwater specialists
• more clarity is needed around what ‘ecosystem health’ means if it determines minimum flows in rivers
• IrrigationNZ has already done a significant amount of work around installing water measurement tools and will continue
• is pleased to see work on a stand alone national water body to manage and oversee freshwater could be underway
• agrees that education, science and measurement are all key to the solution for healthy freshwater - IrrigationNZ is a leader in all of these areas providing specialist irrigation education and training including NZQA qualifications to 800 participants a year
• that certainty and consistency is essential at a national, regional and local level
• would like to better understand how these proposals intersect with the government’s Highly Productive Land, Biodiversity and Three Waters proposals
• recognises that implementation at a regional level critical to success

“The outcome of policy from these proposals may be a challenge for some irrigators to achieve but this should also be seen as an opportunity for the country to get the balance right when it comes to water,” says Ms Johnston.

“It is important for the primary sector to stand together and find a practical way forward within the parameters government has set out.

“There is always a fine balance between protecting our beautiful natural assets and allowing for practical ways forward which support our grass-roots communities hopefully the outcomes of these proposals will provide for that,” says Ms Soal.

“We are in exciting and challenging times in regard to freshwater management in Aotearoa - particularly given future uncertainties around climate change. New Zealand needs to think about risks to its resilience and ways to protect both its environment and its communities in the face of increasing weather volatility due to climate change. We need to be strategic in the way we manage water so as not to expose our communities in dry seasons.

“However as these proposals highlight, there are some key issues that need addressing if we are to ensure our water resources can be enjoyed by future generations and can continue to contribute to our country’s wellbeing,” concludes Ms Soal.

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