IrrigationNZ and tourism sector working better together

By: IrrigationNZ CEO Andrew Curtis

The Tourism Export Council recently suggested a five-year moratorium on irrigation development...

They asked whether new irrigation schemes are necessary in the wake of the dairy downturn and questioned whether water quality would be better served by stalling further development. IrrigationNZ felt this was a perfect opportunity to update the tourism sector on how irrigation works and how our industries can better work together. Below is some of the messaging we sent them.

Irrigation is not solely about dairying. Irrigation supports a variety of land uses including viticulture, horticulture, cropping and sheep and beef. Pastoral-based activities make up approximately three quarters of our irrigated area (dairy 50 percent and sheep and beef finishing 25 percent). The other 25 percent of irrigation supports predominately vegetable and arable crops alongside fruit and wine growing. Without irrigation, the tourism industry would not be able to promote the food and wine packages it offers in regions such as Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough and Central Otago. These growers are only able to produce quality vintages and products with the support of reliable water.

In 2012, it was estimated that irrigated farms provided a $2.7billion contribution to New Zealand’s economy, and more than double this in terms of the benefits to the wider community. Irrigated agriculture underpins many of the provincial economies on the east coast of New Zealand. Towns like Hastings, Blenheim, Ashburton, Timaru, Oamaru, Cromwell and Alexandra would be far less vibrant and resilient without irrigation. Irrigation actually benefits tourism because the renewed vitality of these rural centres has created openings for tourism operators. The growth of rural cafes, service and retail outlets, medical centres, alongside improved roading and council infrastructure, can all be attributed to more resilient economies due to irrigation development. School rolls and employment prospects have also increased as job-seekers and families move into these areas to set up businesses and take jobs connected to irrigation. Tourists leaving the ferry at Picton now experience a South Island east coast which is alive at the weekends as locals make the most of the opportunities water has brought to their communities.

Getting better at using and storing water also allows us to address the environmental challenges that have arisen including legacy water quality concerns as a result of increased land use intensity and general population growth in urban centres. Irrigators have long considered themselves stewards of the land. We accept that with increasing land intensity, water abstraction needs to leave enough water in our rivers and streams to maintain healthy aquatic ecosystems (the majority of New Zealand rivers have a minimum flow regime), and the impact of farming on the land needs to minimise its footprint. Stored water will help us face future climate change challenges, either through augmenting river flows during the summer or recharging aquifers in spring. We can also rejuvenate today’s streams and rivers by ensuring higher minimum flows are maintained year-round with the assistance of water storage.

There are a growing number of examples where irrigators have helped to restore environmental legacy issues; Wakakihi stream – Morven Glenavy Ikawai Irrigation, Pahau stream – Amuri Irrigation, Waiareka Creek – North Otago Irrigation Company. Irrigators have also led the way in adopting Audited Environmental Farm Plans. These plans create bottom-lines for farm environmental performance, helping irrigators continuously improve performance.

Currently New Zealand only abstracts around two percent of its water resource (if hydropower is included this rises to about five percent). Irrigation accounts for approximately 60 percent of this and by international standards our general abstraction rate is very low. The worldwide precipitation average is 800mm per annum but New Zealand receives in excess of 2000mm per annum, which is two and a half times more rainfall. Taking both our abstraction and precipitation rates into account, New Zealand is definitely a water-rich country!

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