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Continued investment in water infrastructure vital

Continued investment in water infrastructure vital for regional growth and to combat climate change

A Labour and Green commitment to wind down Government loan funding for irrigation ignores irrigation’s vital role in regional growth and climate change adaptation, says nonprofit membership body IrrigationNZ.

“We note the Labour-New Zealand First coalition agreement has a significant focus on regional economic development,” says IrrigationNZ Chief Executive Andrew Curtis.

“Canterbury, Hawkes Bay, Northland and Bay of Plenty are just some of the regions which have highlighted the development of irrigation as being critical to their future in regional economic growth strategies,” he adds. “A wind down of Government support for irrigation at the same time as a commitment to invest in regional growth is counter-productive.”

Irrigation currently contributes $5.5 billion to New Zealand’s GDP, with a number of New Zealand studies confirming that for every 1,000 hectares of irrigated land developed, 50 new jobs are created. Currently most of the Government support for irrigation is paid back by farmers and growers, with interest.

“Given how important water infrastructure is to many regional economies, we would encourage the government to talk to the regions about the value irrigation adds to their economies and look at supporting irrigation infrastructure through its new $1bn Regional Development Fund,” Mr Curtis says. “

“Water storage can also be designed to have environmental benefits, for example the Waimea dam will allow guaranteed minimum river flows, while Central Plains Water is planning to recharge lowland streams and will help resolve current groundwater allocation issues by switching many groundwater users to alpine sourced water.”

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The recently released Our Atmosphere and Climate Report also highlights the need for continued investment in irrigation and water infrastructure to protect New Zealand from the effects of climate change

“With soils expected to get drier and the frequency and intensity of droughts expected to increase, the ability to store water for agriculture and for urban water supplies will become ever more vital,” says IrrigationNZ CEO Andrew Curtis.

Droughts have hit New Zealand agriculture roughly twice a decade, and can be expected to increase. The drought in summer 2013 saw a billion dollars wiped off the New Zealand economy.

“Irrigation will become even more important in the future to feed our growing population and ensure agricultural production can continue,” says Andrew Curtis. “With more frequent droughts expected, continued investment in irrigation to maintain a reliable year round water supply is needed to protect New Zealanders from regular drought-related food price spikes or shortages,” he adds.

“Less reliable rainfall, more frequent droughts and more intense rainfall also indicates that farmers, along with urban and provincial towns, will need to look at the reliability of their water supplies and investigate water storage options from rainfall or river water.”

A number of towns already source their water from irrigation schemes including Oamaru, Timaru and Kerikeri.

“With a shift towards more intense rainfall events occurring, along with eastern regions receiving less rainfall while west coast areas receive more rainfall, there is a need to look at investing in infrastructure to deliver water where and when it is needed,” says Mr Curtis.

“Increased water storage would help address the imbalance between having too much water or not enough water by allowing water to be released when it is needed,” he says.

The Our Atmosphere and Climate Report was released by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics NZ on 19 October and is online here

Alongside the headline findings on temperature, emissions, carbon dioxide and UV, the Our Atmosphere and Climate Report found that ‘climate change is already potentially irreversibly affecting New Zealand’s natural systems. We can expect more severe effects on the environment and our human systems as the climate continues to change.’

‘Since the 1972/73 measurement season, soils at one-fifth of sites around New Zealand have been getting drier. The frequency and intensity of drought in drought-prone regions are expected to increase with climate change, with important implications for our primary industries.’

Studies on the value of irrigation to districts are accessible online here http://irrigationnz.co.nz/knowledge-resources/irrigation-new-zealand/socio-economic-value-of-irrigation/

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