By Mike Chapman
OPINION: An important issue facing New Zealanders is water - both availability and quality.
Across rural New Zealand, there are thousands of schemes and initiatives focused on water. This is unsurprising as humans, animals and plants need water to survive; we need clean water and access to water when there are dry periods so that humans, animals and plants can survive.
The reality of climate change is that we are experiencing an increasing number of adverse weather events and the eastern part of New Zealand will see periods of prolonged drought.
At the moment, we do not use our water as wisely as we could and we do not protect our water as well as we should. This is not just a rural issue, it is also an urban issue - especially when it comes to water quality.
There has been a lot of focus on what is happening in the rural sector, but not much focus about what is happening in urban New Zealand. So The Vision is Clear partnership launched by DairyNZ to raise awareness about what farmers are doing to improve waterways and to inspire all New Zealanders to get involved, is very timely. It calls for a collective approach.
NIWA's figures report that we use only 2 percent of our water. That leaves a massive 98 percent waiting for all of us to manage and use sensibly.
To meet future demand, water storage across the country will be essential to supply water to humans as well as animals and plants.
A simple start would be urban New Zealand capturing, storing and using rainfall for watering their gardens and collecting rain water from their roofs. Urban New Zealand needs to focus on its water quality.
In both urban and rural New Zealand, managing water quality is vital to protect our environment. Heavy rainfall events that are becoming more prevalent need to be effectively managed. It is no longer acceptable for urban sewer systems to overflow when there is heavy rain, causing damaging pollution in our fresh water and sea ways.
We need to start trapping heavy rainfalls to stop sewers and rivers flooding. This will help to provide water during dry periods and keep the ecosystems in our streams and rivers healthy and flourishing during dry periods.
In the rural sector, we need recognition from both central and regional government about the importance of water storage. Instead of making it very difficult, bureaucratic, time-consuming and expensive to do even the most simple storage pond, as a country we need to embrace and make it as easy as possible for water storage initiatives to be undertaken.
Simply put, we need to cut the red tape.
In addition to streamlining water storage approvals, more needs to be done. There needs to be ready access to affordable finance to enable water storage.
How about the Government make it mandatory and fully fund water storage tanks for every new house that is built? Or the Government gives grants to everyone putting in water storage ponds and dams to kickstart the process?
How about the approval process has a fast-track mechanism with regional councils being required to provide the technical advice and support applications? And funding being available for smart irrigation systems?
Instead of more regulation, how about running focus groups and fieldays to encourage and enable best practice?
Talking about water issues and bringing New Zealanders together into a partnership to sort our water issues is a vital first step.
But if we want to make the future sustainable, clean water supply, we need to change processes and funding and stop making it difficult for water storage to be achieved. We need to empower and help all New Zealanders contribute to water supply and quality.
As DairyNZ says, we need to work together as one for the country.
Mike Chapman is CEO of Horticulture New Zealand.