Irrigation New Zealand is calling on the incoming government to prioritise the creation of a cross-agency water group to design a long-term strategy for freshwater in New Zealand, led by a minister for water.
The industry body wants to see integration of all aspects of freshwater management into one holistic plan and approach, including freshwater farm plans, drinking water regulation, water storage, wetlands, biodiversity, integrated farm management, hydroelectricity, dam safety legislation and unlocking the productive potential of iwi-owned land.
“This minister would have oversight of all the fingers currently in the water pie of regulation and infrastructure,” IrrigationNZ chair Keri Johnston said.
“It would be the co-ordinated strategic approach that is so lacking at the moment.”
It is calling for the incoming government to commission a report on the national economic and social benefits of irrigation and on catchment objectives including economic, wellbeing, and environmental contributions outcomes.
This should be underpinned by research to improve freshwater outcomes at a catchment level, increase the resilience of food production, lift productivity and develop climate-resilient and adaptive infrastructure. “We need to look at land use change opportunities across NZ, taking into consideration our highly productive soils, and match reliable water planning to ensure long-term improvements of environmental outcomes, ensuring resilience by facilitating water capture and storage opportunities.
“Freshwater is important to every New Zealander. This conversation is about communities’ ability to survive and NZ food security.
“Whether in a pipe or in a pond, infrastructure needs a longer lifespan as we can’t have this being a political football every three years.
“It will take commitment, investment and vision, so we need all political parties on the same page.
“We do not want a question of who is in power, we need to take it out of the political realm.
“This a decision for the future of New Zealanders and it takes more than a three-year term.
“We need to get that mindset through to the incoming government.”
A criteria checklist for regionally significant water storage and distribution projects would ensure they provide multiple benefits for the community.
Johnston said IrrigationNZ will be working with all political parties to find common ground as it guns for enabling policy that promotes innovation, supports investment, demonstrates flexibility, shares information and supports education.
Reducing uncertainty needs the provision of long-term consent options for water storage projects in order to attract and retain investment in infrastructure.
“This relates not to big dams, but appropriate, community-based water harvesting, storage, and distribution, ensuring the community is given a voice in planning processes along with regional councils and iwi-Māori when establishing catchment priorities and making spatial planning decisions.”