Despite the government winding up the Crown Irrigation Investment fund, prospects for irrigation remain upbeat in the eastern regions of both islands, with established schemes well subscribed and proposed schemes keen to continue.
The latest positive news for schemes in the South Island has been the decision by Environment Canterbury appointed hearings commissioners to grant the Rangitata Diversion Race Management company (RDRML) consent to take additional water from the river when flow was above flood levels of 132cumecs.
The additional water take was ruled by the commissioners to have “minor or less than minor effects on salmon fishing, salmon passage water based recreation or the braided quality of the river.”
The news has been welcomed by land users throughout the region, and puts the storage scheme further down the pathway to becoming a reality, with the 250ha Klondyke water storage site being the largest in Australasia.
“The news has been welcomed by land users throughout the region, and puts the storage scheme further down the pathway to becoming a reality.”
The 53 million cubic metre facility offers a physical means to achieve regional water targets and outcomes by artificially recharging ground water, and boosting water way levels in the mid-Canterbury district.
Irrigation New Zealand chief executive Andrew Curtis has welcomed the additional flow to the scheme, and recognition it would not have an impact upon the river’s health.
The Klondyke scheme highlights the new approach being adopted by water scheme supporters. The schemes effectively serve as environmental buffers alongside their irrigation purpose, thanks to their ability to lift water tables and help reduce the amount of water being taken out of underground aquifers.
The massive Central Plains Water scheme, now in stage 2 is already proving the environmental benefits irrigation can deliver to districts’ water supplies, alongside viable irrigation schemes.
Established in a district over-allocated for water take, the scheme aimed to reduce pressure on groundwater supply. In 2015 prior to stage one kicking off, 21m cubic meters was being used from underground sources. This dropped to 15m by 2017 when the scheme was well underway.
“We are getting reports ground water levels are now at the highest levels recorded for some years. There is the equivalent of 20,000ha of water application no longer being taken from deep bores, and we are starting to see the benefits of that,” said Curtis.
Similarly the proposed Hunter Downs scheme intended to provide 10,000ha of irrigation is closely linked to helping restore the Wainono Lagoon by flushing volumes of fresh clean water through it, restoring wetlands and water tables around it.
This scheme’s founders are presently working to secure extra funding after news that the $70 million loan promised earlier by the government was not going to go ahead.
News that an appeal to Environment Canterbury’s Plan Change 5 has been resolved with a win to irrigators has also been welcomed by Andrew Curtis.
Described as “the rule that no-one wanted”, originally all irrigators in Canterbury were to be required to upgrade their older spray equipment by 2020, at an estimated cost of $300 million.
“Irrigation NZ spent a lot of time on this appeal. We knew the decision by the hearing panel would have wide ranging impacts, so we commissioned an independent report showing there were huge costs to implement this change. We are very pleased the appeal has ruled out this rule no one requested,” said Andrew Curtis.
Further north backers of the proposed Wairarapa water scheme remain firmly on track. Scheme director Michael Bassett-Foss is confident the scheme’s ability to be ramped up in 8,000ha lots makes it a more flexible design for seeking funding for over time.
Bayleys Canterbury rural agent Ben Turner says farmers on established schemes are starting to recognise the value they deliver in terms of reducing the farm business risk, and not only around having certainty of supply.
“Farmers on established schemes are starting to recognise the value they deliver in terms of reducing the farm business risk, and not only around having certainty of supply.”
They also have the ability to diversify their operations which reduces reliance upon a single output. They also have peace of mind the schemes have their nutrient plans included.
Andrew Curtis said irrigation has to play a key role in the government’s zero carbon future, with access to irrigation water becoming even more important for food security, and to help lower carbon levels by enabling greater production of horticultural crops, over traditional pastoral production.