Water storage more important than ever as economy recovers from COVID-19 - Irrigation NZ

The Budget came as Hawke's Bay continues to struggle with one of the worst droughts in living memory.
The Budget came as Hawke's Bay continues to struggle with one of the worst droughts in living memory. Photo credit: File/Getty

Strategic water storage in key regions could play an important role in helping the country recover from COVID-19, says Irrigation New Zealand.

Many in the farming community were disappointed that last week's Budget did not allocate any money specifically for water-related projects.

Although the primary sector did get a cash injection of almost $500 million, a large part of which went to fighting Mycoplasma bovis, as well as considerable investment in various schemes aimed at creating jobs in the industry, many questioned the lack of money for water storage.

The Budget came as Hawke's Bay continues to struggle with one of the worst droughts in living memory.

Elizabeth Soal, chief executive of IrrigationNZ says not earmarking money for water storage was a "missed opportunity".

"We were hoping that there might be more of a focus on water infrastructure specifically - both in terms of rural water, so for irrigation and providing flows for streams, and storage for when there are droughts like there are in Hawke's Bay at the moment," Soal told Magic Talk's Rural Today on Monday. 

She says the dry conditions in Hawke's Bay highlight just how important access to water is, not just in rural areas but also in the cities.

"The drought they're facing at the moment is terrible and is going to have ramifications for years to come in terms of what it's doing to farms, but also in terms of aquifer recharge, it's not happening," Soal said. 

"That's going to affect streamflow and water availability not just for farmers but for communities and the environment for a couple of years to come. 

"And also look at Auckland, what's happening there - they're running short of water as well and that's only going to get worse in the future under climate change too."

With $20 billion of Government funding yet to be allocated, Soal said she remained hopeful some of that might go towards water storage projects, but said it was a "tricky issue to manage".

"A lot of people have emotional responses to thinking about how we manage our water, and that's completely understandable," she said.

"It is very important to people in terms of their lives and their culture and we use water for recreation and that sort of thing - so talking about how we use it can be a political discussion as soon as you touch it. 

"It's very hard to develop overarching strategies for it when a lot of the issues are quite local - but that's why we think that there needs to be national guidance, to take away the politics around it and to come up with something that can guide regions and local communities in making some of these tough decisions."

With the primary industries playing a key role in rebuilding the economy in the wake of COVID-19,  Soal said the use and availability of water was a key element in that recovery.

As well as helping drought-stricken farmers, strategic water storage could also help the country achieve positive environmental outcomes and contribute to climate change targets, she said.