Water Conservation Orders Have No Role In Sustainable Future For New Zealand
Instead of knocking the productive use of water for activities such as irrigation, it’s time all New Zealanders accepted
and celebrated how water adds value. Water is New Zealand’s strategic advantage. Permanently ‘locking up’ its use
through outdated and divisive processes, such as Water Conservation Orders, is not beneficial – not even to the river.
We live in an ever changing environment. Future water management must focus on collaboration between community
stakeholders, not legal mechanisms which end up fracturing communities. We need to encourage best practice for both
urban and rural water users and focus on adaptive management – which in part will require considerable investment in
Water Conservation Orders no longer have relevance, particularly since the development of the Freshwater Management
National Policy Statement that requires communities to set freshwater objectives and limits – they have been superseded.
Water Conservation Orders therefore need to be retired, not given increased teeth as the Green Party suggests.
The irrigation pioneers of the 20th century set New Zealand on a pathway to a secure and prosperous future. We rely on
irrigation to provide the diverse range of food we now demand from our supermarkets – and at an affordable price.
Imagine the increased cost if we had to import our food. Alongside food security we are also highly dependent on
irrigation for New Zealand’s continued growth.
Many regions of New Zealand are built on irrigation. Hawke’s Bay and Tasman, patchworks of orchards supplying pack
houses, vineyards supplying wineries and vegetable growers supplying food processing factories, all rely on water for
irrigation. Marlborough, the Sauvignon Blanc capital of the world, would not exist without water for irrigation. Central
Otago would be a barren wilderness, not a premium producer of Pinot Noir, cherries, apricots and fine wool garments.
Then there’s Canterbury – with its world leading seed production industries, diverse cropping enterprises, and capacity
to efficiently turn pasture into protein. Irrigation is the cornerstone of the Canterbury economy and will be critical
for the success of the Christchurch rebuild.
Irrigation accounts for over 20% of agricultural exports from just 6% of New Zealand’s productive land. There is a
sustainable growth opportunity, through the implementation of best practice irrigation (on-farm efficiency gains
combined with building water storage infrastructure) to responsibly increase New Zealand’s irrigated land from 650,000
hectares to 1million hectares. Over $3 billion of investment has already been made in farm irrigation equipment and
another $3 billion in community irrigation scheme infrastructure.
The future is about how we maximise and increase this investment to ensure New Zealand’s water resource is used
efficiently and sustainably – providing opportunities for all. It’s not about how we lock up the water resource through
Water Conservation Orders and bankrupt the nation. Agriculture and tourism are both too important to NZ and Water
Conservation Orders are not the answer.
Irrigation NZ is the national body representing irrigators and the irrigation industry. Its mission is to promote
excellence in irrigation throughout