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The NZ Economy Needs Water Storage

15 December 2008

Water storage is one of the 'magic bullets' the NZ economy needs

"If there is one magic bullet guaranteed to transform the New Zealand economy it is water storage," says Federated Farmers water spokesperson, Hugh Ritchie.

Federated Farmers is analysing the water storage potential of regions around New Zealand. In the Canterbury region alone it has identified water storage potential to fill the equivalent of around 650,000 Olympic sized swimming pools; enough water storage to supply ten cities the size of Auckland. With water fundamental to any agricultural system, water storage is needed to keep grass growing over lean summer months. The Federation contends this will lead to an agricultural and economic transformation generating billions of dollars in export earnings.

"We are pleased to see the Minister of Agriculture take up Federated Farmers' campaign to bank water when it's plentiful, to irrigate productive land when it's not. David Carter deserves praise for linking economic productivity with water storage in convening a water forum later this month," said Mr Ritchie.

"Banking water makes sense for the environment. Fish need water so creating a better environment for fish will generate new recreational and tourism opportunities. Water storage is a winner for the whole community.

"The Opuha Dam in South Canterbury is a good example of what we mean. In October, the Opuha Dam Water Management Project was the supreme winner of the 2008 Canterbury Resource Management Awards. It is a sustainable water storage project supported by Fish and Game, local Iwi and the community.

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"Compared with road building the cost of water storage is a bargain, but one that delivers farmers' much needed water to irrigate, recreational anglers' new places to fish as well as habitat for wildlife.

"We know from the Opuha economic study that for every dollar generated on-farm as a result of water storage, $8.30 in economic benefits flowed into the wider economy. Those are not just farmer benefits but benefits for everyone in New Zealand. It stands to reason that come summer, when the grass stops growing, farmers either dry off or de-stock. That drop in productivity also drops the living standard of every New Zealander. Water storage will turn this around.

"Canterbury is an excellent case in point given the spectre of drought is reappearing after heavy rain and snowfall over winter. New water storage and increased water take from some existing rivers has potential to irrigate a further 325,000 hectares of land. That expands the productive land in the Canterbury region by a full third. We are not talking massive projects but modest schemes like the award winning Opuha Dam.

"Even if all of Canterbury's town water was to be supplied and every singe hectare of farmland on the Canterbury Plains irrigated, only 12% of the water in Canterbury currently running out to sea would be utilised. That gives some scale to the amount of water that exists.

"New Zealand is not like Australia as we don't lack for water it's that we don't bank the stuff.

"New Zealand needs to keep the grass growing as there is an economic impact if we don't. Last season's drought cost the economy $1.2 billion so if we just spent some of that figure on water storage infrastructure, everyone wins.

"In light of climate change and El Niño/La Niña weather patterns the time has come to bank water. That's the key message we will be taking to the Minister's water forum later this month. The cost of not doing so is high yet the cost of doing so is low relative to other infrastructure projects.

"As part of the Federated Farmers' campaign on water storage we are also taking a list of suggested projects to the Government. We hope to convince the new Government that storing water is strongly tied to improved environmental outcomes, economic growth and productivity," Mr Ritchie concluded.


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