Farm Advice: Water Storage and Capture a necessity

By: Vanessa Winning, IrrigationNZ chief executive

IrrigationNZ Vanessa Winning shares her thoughts around the importance of long-term planning and investment in water storage and capture.


This summer has seen a low demand for irrigation in Canterbury, however, this is not the same situation for other areas across the country.

Southland is experiencing what’s essentially a drought, parts of the North struggling with consistency, and we’re not set up in most places to capture the rain as it falls and reduce our reliance on our rivers.

This comes back to long-term planning and investment. Not since Crown investments in irrigation have we had consistent investment and planning around water storage and capture. We’ve relied on our natural environment and that environment is changing – both the changing climatic conditions and people’s views on priorities for water.

This has put us back years on progress in this area and requires significant attention and investment. The only way we can do this is by working with all the community with regards to water and have a focus on community-wide outcomes.

To hear farmers in Southland buying PKE (palm kernel extract) to feed their dairy herd for the first time in their lifetimes is worrying. Farmers who are used to having reliable conditions for the growth of pasture and crops are now having to source feed at a time when grain is scarce. This demonstrates a long-term need for water investment. Grain in New Zealand is at some of the highest prices right now, with both the impacts of the war in Ukraine affecting worldwide supply and, more locally, the storms that wiped out a substantial portion of New Zealand’s supply. A perfect storm as such.

MPI recently prepared a paper on the need for water storage, capture, and more efficient use, which is a good start. However, MPI does not hold the purse strings, and there’s still a lack of Governmental wide investment being looked at, and at the same time, as this is raised, we’re about to have more restrictions on small, lower risk dams from another Government department. This calls for a Government-wide approach to water and the need for future-proofing against a changing climate, as well as supporting climate change mitigation initiatives, such as providing for hydroelectricity and water resilience for land-use change.

Good examples of community-wide investment happened under the regional investment fund in Northland – a focus on community jobs, investment in developing iwi land, and getting resilience in a dry climate for more fruit and vegetables and local drinking water. This is on a small scale, and we need more of it.

Although, we will not change this issue if we do not have a ministry or group responsible for all water infrastructure working together for the good of the whole country instead of expecting farmers to collectively resource new irrigation for their own purposes. The Government needs to bring together the ministries that have part responsibility and create a strategy that’s greater than the sum of all the parts and future-proof our country.

IrrigationNZ is working on behalf of farmers and growers advocating for more storage and capture solutions and collaborating with officials to get a better policy for water use and efficiency. We will continue to advocate for practical solutions to meet joint outcomes and improve our impact.

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