Wednesday, February 21, 2024

IrrigationNZ has shopping list for next govt

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Water ministry and better storage top the list.
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Irrigation is a key enabler for growing food, but to grow food and keep costs under control New Zealand needs better water capture and storage, IrrigationNZ chair Keri Johnston says.

IrrigationNZ has been working with all political parties to find common ground and share what the focus areas are for the sector ahead of the election. 

“We have also been meeting with sector groups, water users, and irrigation schemes to further understand concerns and hear their ideas for the future,” Johnston said.

In response to this consultation IrrigationNZ has presented its shopping list for an incoming government.

It includes support for water capture, storage and use with a minister for water put in place and strategy developed that puts climate change adaptation and mitigation centre stage, providing certainty regarding water capture and storage. 

IrrigationNZ is asking for enabling policy that promotes innovation, supports investment, demonstrates flexibility, shares information and supports education.

“We will be engaging with key decision makers and officials leading into the election to press for a change in the way irrigation is perceived,” Johnston said.

“We will be emphasising the importance of reliable water and the need for strategic water capture and storage to ensure the country’s resilience.

“We will be travelling the country and meeting with groups.” 

Johnston said IrrigationNZ calls on an incoming government to consider prioritising the creation of a cross-agency water group to design a long-term strategy for freshwater in NZ, led by a minister for water. 

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. 

The industry body also wants to see integration of all aspects of freshwater management into one holistic plan and approach, including but not limited to Freshwater Farm Plans, drinking water regulation, wetlands, biodiversity, integrated farm management and dam safety legislation. 

Long-term planning strategies must appropriately take into account changing weather patterns and drier or wetter regions that need reliable water to sustain food and fibre production.

“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.”

A checklist of criteria for regionally significant water storage and distribution projects would ensure they provide multiple benefits for the community. 

“These benefits include drinking water, local hydroelectricity, environmental allocation, unlocking the productive potential of iwi-Māori owned land, enabling land-use change and growing new food product groups linked to export markets with fast-track consenting or designation pathway for approved projects.” 

Policy must demonstrate flexibility by reviewing regulation and policies impacting freshwater to ensure food producers can continue to prioritise the growing of food and fibre as the climate changes. 

“This can include consistency in the approach for setting freshwater farm plan actions by using a risk-based assessment set using catchment or watershed objectives and priorities. 

“It will need work at a local catchment level to strike the correct balance between environmental protection, social and cultural objectives and the use of freshwater for producing food and fibre.”

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.” 

IrrigationNZ is advocating for the promotion of innovation by driving the efficiency of all water uses as part of catchment-level freshwater outcomes, sharing information and promoting education by measuring and reporting on farmer and grower environmental improvements and behaviour change.

It is calling for the incoming government to commission a report on the national economic and social benefits of irrigation with a measure and report on catchment objectives including economic, wellbeing and environmental contributions outcomes. 

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