Wednesday, April 24, 2024

A dam fine raft of water storage ideas

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Alan Emerson approves of the government’s fast-track plans for large-scale projects.
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The recent statements by the prime minister on water storage were music to my ears.

For the uninitiated, fresh, clean water is the world’s scarcest resource yet we let over 90% run out to sea. Past attempts at water storage have been bureaucratic nightmares and the Ruataniwha Dam shambles in Hawke’s Bay is witness to that as was the Wakamoekau water storage project in Wairarapa.

I find it iniquitous that many of those people who shrilly warn about the evils of climate change are equally shrill opposing any water storage. We know that the east of New Zealand is going to become progressively drier, with water needed to mitigate that. It isn’t a nice thing to have but a necessity.

The Luxon statement that he wanted to remove the red tape preventing large-scale water storage projects from being built was great to hear. Predictably, Federated Farmers welcomed the move. It is good news for our sector.

The Wakamoekau water storage scheme in Wairarapa was canned largely because of the costs involved in the consenting process. Having those costs removed will be a considerable shot in the arm for both Wairarapa and the country. 

Luxon’s additional statement that making water storage easier will help transform regions and enlarge our economy was also welcome. The reality is that cost-effective water storage can achieve both.

Removing the red tape around water storage was promised by Minister for Primary Industries Todd McClay during the election campaign and was one of the Feds’ pre-election policy planks. It is great seeing that coming to fruition.

Hard on the heels of the Luxon statement came one from ministers Chris Bishop and Shane Jones telling me of a one-stop shop for major projects. For the record, I’m happier with those ministers making decisions than I am with the status quo of regional government telling me what I can and can’t do.

The ministers also told me that the cost of consenting infrastructure projects had increased by a massive 70% since 2014 and the time taken has blown out by as much as 150% over the same period.

That isn’t sustainable.

What is most welcome is that all three coalition parties are committed to reform.

Associate Minister of Agriculture and NZ First MP Mark Patterson was positive about developments and “encouraged” by the prime minister’s statements. Regional Councils need to adapt to the government’s fast-track legislation and encourage water storage. He felt that in the past it was often hard to get things done “for dubious reasons”.

As well as being associate minister of agriculture he holds the associate minister of regional development portfolio and is minister for rural communities. He “couldn’t be more supportive of water storage and irrigation”.  He is “committed to making sure it happens”.

He argues that “now is the time to get the show on the road”.

I came away from our discussion in a really positive frame of mind. Patterson understands farming and rural issues. As minister for rural communities he is in the box seat to make things happen. I’m confident he will.

Select Committee chair and ACT MP Mark Cameron was also highly supportive. His statement to me was that “if you want to build a dam on private land and it’s not affecting anyone else, go for it”.

National’s Mike Butterick told me that “water is about jobs, about protecting what’s here and creating a future”. He added that “growing isn’t complicated. You just have to add water”. 

It’s hard to argue with that.

That the current system isn’t working was graphically illustrated by the treatment Wellington Regional Council gave to local farmer Len French, who has developed a 13 hectare irrigation dam.

French took four years and spent $400,000 before a sod could be turned. He suggested that the regional council didn’t know what to do. There was an additional $280,000 required for non-dam conservation work, which was ridiculous.

Another issue was that anyone could submit against the proposed dam without any interest in it, which is farcical. Wellington Regional Council also argued that the dam was on a wetland. French also had to deal with issues of fish passage, again at considerable expense.

The dam is now up and running with the French flats an oasis of green in an otherwise desert of brown. It is a credit to their perseverance that the dam is built and is working.

For all those reasons I’m totally supportive of the government initiatives to encourage water storage. 

I also welcome the fast-track legislation as in this instance having central government taking control is the right thing to do. Regional government has consistently shown its inability to approve water storage projects quickly and cost effectively.

What farmers need to do now is to get water storage proposals together and put them forward. The time is right. 

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