Posted by Grant Paice on Sep 25, 2019
Irrigation NZ – Facts & Fallacies
We were privileged to hear an informative presentation from Elizabeth Soal, the Chief Executive of Irrigation New Zealand, a not for profit organisation established in 2004 that looks after the interests of over 3,500 irrigating farmers, growers and industry professionals throughout NZ.
INZ has been established to:
·       Facilitate the adoption of best practice in irrigation and water management.
·       Develop a world-class resource base of knowledge, information and statistics on irrigation in NZ.
·       Provide effective communication & networks of the organisations & interests involved in irrigation & water management.
·       Promote the story of irrigation in NZ.
“We aim to influence national and local players and train people in good irrigation practice to maximise returns and conserve the environment” explained Elizabeth.
“The organisation currently runs four research projects including fish management plus the development of an online e-platform to train rural people plus an application that reduces nitrates and shares information on how water is used to supply the food we eat” added Elizabeth.
Irrigation in NZ is not a recent phenomenon.  It has been around since the gold mining rights days.  Richard Seddon was a strong early strong supporter and there were lots of calls at the turn of the century for the Government to become actively involved to avoid the disastrous effects of droughts.
The Government also invested heavily in irrigation in the 1930s via the Ministry of Works.
Elizabeth next shared some interesting statistics including:
·       The annual rainfall in NZ is 550 cubic kms which is 25x the global average.
·       40 ckm of this is ice with another 110 ckm of this returning to the atmosphere.
·       Only 2% of the total rainfall is used by us of which 51% goes into irrigation, 14% is used domestically and 13 % is used by industry.
·       In comparison to the world which irrigates mostly by spray, 86% of NZ irrigation is via surface water.
·       Canterbury uses 80% of our NZ wide irrigation of which 47% is for dairy, 23% for sheep, 17% for beef and 5% for vegetables.
She noted that the Government is currently consulting on fresh water reforms based around what leads via regional and district plans into the granting of resource consents which inform farmers what they can and can’t do.
It includes ensuring that no further irrigation developments will be allowed unless it can be proved that they will not increase nitrates going back into the land. 
“”As we face uncertainty, water storage in becoming increasingly important” added Elizabeth.
With respect to seeing visible improvements, Elizabeth suggested this will take time as leeching has been occurring for some time.  The challenge is that if we reduce this then many farmers would need to consider returning to dry sheep farming which may not be viable.
So how will this change things?  Elizabeth noted that International good practice suggests a national guidance framework to help ensure local approaches are appropriate.  Councils will be increasing monitoring to ensure safe practice that protects our water which for Canterbury includes reducing or eliminating the possibility of our groundwater becoming contaminated.
Doug thanked Elizabeth for her informative history on irrigation in NZ and an update of planned changes as we work towards ensuring a sustainable future in this important area.