Friday, July 1, 2022

MPI calls for urgent action on water storage

The release of the water availability and security (WAS) report is a significant statement of intent for New Zealand to act strategically and act now, an advisor to the report’s authors says.

Federated Farmers senior policy adviser Lionel Hume says co-ordinated preparation of an action plan to improve water storage is overdue.

The release of the water availability and security (WAS) report is a significant statement of intent for New Zealand to act strategically and act now, an advisor to the report’s authors says.

The report, released by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), calls for urgent action on water storage. 

Researchers for the report worked with an external water availability and security advisory group, whose nine members include Canterbury-based Federated Farmers senior policy advisor Lionel Hume.

Hume says better coordination and preparation of an action plan for future steps towards improving water storage are overdue.

“If we’re serious about building resilience to the impacts of climate change, those are the sorts of discussions we need to have,” Hume said.

“We’ve got plenty of water and we’re still going to get plenty of water, we just need to fund some better infrastructure so we can store it and use it.”

The report has indications of more supportive policies acknowledging the strategic importance of water storage and distribution infrastructure.

It says for NZ to transition towards land uses that have a greater economic value and smaller environmental footprint, as well as improved community resilience, “we need to act strategically and to act now”.

The report has key messages about water use efficiency and demand management, with future strategy showing how government investment may support storage and distribution.

It also recommends future storage must be multifaceted, multi-user and complementary within the community visions.

While NZ is traditionally viewed as a green and water-rich country, climate change trends show a country getting warmer and drier, with some regional variations more prone to climate extremes such as floods and droughts.

As part of both demand and supply management, there needs to be a better integration of practices and technologies to monitor, measure and manage water to improve efficiency and climate proof water availability and security.

“Where demand responses are not sufficient to ensure water security, there is a need to consider the role of supply solutions such as investment in water storage, groundwater recharge and water distribution to supplement natural sources of freshwater,” he said.

A key recommendation is that MPI establishes a water availability and security partnership made up of central and local government, iwi/Māori, food and fibre sector organisations, science providers and community interest groups.

Looking at Canterbury, Hume says climate change scenarios suggest the region is going to get less snow falling in the Southern Alps, less rainfall on the east coast but even greater rainfall on the west coast and Southern Alps.

“There could be more water in the alpine rivers, but if more water in the main divide is falling as rain rather than snow, it’s not necessarily going to turn up on the east coast at the time it’s most needed,” he said.

“Historically, snow melt happens late spring-early summer, exactly when water is needed for irrigation to drive food production.

“It’s probably not going to be that neat and tidy in the future.

“Better storage future-proofs our options.”

And he says it’s not just about agriculture.

“We need water security for towns and cities too,” he said.

“The development of water infrastructure these days tends to be multi-purpose.

“I think that’s going to be increasingly the case with planning and funding needing to be at community scale.”

Based on a national scale assessment, the report identified Canterbury, Hawke’s Bay, Tasman and southern Manawatū as regions that would need medium to large storage infrastructure to enable a water security of 95% or greater.

While previous government and private sector investment models achieved the water infrastructure NZ currently relies on, future models will need to be more innovative to achieve multiple purposes and benefits.

“Security of a return on investment and unlocking the potential uptake across the system are key enablers that will drive new funding models,” the report said.

“Financing and procurement of such models will bring in different types of partners and stakeholders for investment at different phases of the scheme.

“Interventions such as government underwrites, or guarantees are still very relevant tools that will be needed at certain stages to incentivise uptake.

“There remains a clear role for central and local government to co-invest where there are both public and private benefits from new infrastructure and regulatory and climate change uncertainty impacting the willingness for the private sector to invest.”

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