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By Nicky Hyslop, IrrigationNZ Chairwoman

Greenpeace’s article on July 26 regarding drought and irrigation shows just how out of touch its campaigners are with what is really happening in New Zealand’s rural communities and on farms.

I agree with Greenpeace that droughts cause serious problems for farmers and communities but to suggest that we are only about irrigation and dams is wrong.  Water storage has benefits for all – whether that is for residential supply, stock water, environment, irrigation, or recreation. Irrigation and good-practice farm management are the ultimate tools for resilience against the ravaging impacts of drought.

Irrigation will not be an option for all farmers due to water availability and for dryland farmers, they must rely on appropriate farm management technics and policies to continue to adapt to climate change ahead.

Having irrigated farms in a district actually provides options to dryland farmers in dry seasons – they can continue to purchase stock from these properties (and therefore hold up prices) and provide invaluable supplementary feed or grazing options.

Irrigated farmers need to also continue to incorporate farming management tools and policies that make the best use of the precious water they use.

Opuha Dam is a great example of just how valuable water is to communities

Opuha Dam experienced the driest season in 80 years in 2014/15 and yet it continued to supply water to farmers until February 20 when they were then 100 percent restricted. This was invaluable and enabled farmers to get through the majority of their production season.  What is even more important is that the Opuha Dam kept the river running providing invaluable habitat to fish and aquatic life. In fact, fish were salvaged from other local rivers and streams and put into the Opihi to survive the drought in the district.  If the Opuha Dam was not there, the river would have run dry from early January – a disaster for all – the environment and the district’s economy.

Just ask North Canterbury farmers how devastating continuous dry conditions can be despite all their best efforts in regards to dryland farm management including drought tolerant grass species, and dry season stock policies – no rain, no grass growth, no feed for stock.  What these farmers would give to have access to water even just for a small corner of their farms.

Irrigating farmers do not suck our rivers and streams dry. The majority, and soon all, rivers and streams in New Zealand will have minimum environmental flows. In dry seasons when these flows are reached irrigators and other water users must stop taking water – this is to protect the health of our rivers, something farmers also recognise as important.

Irrigation is not just about dairy farms – only 50 percent of the irrigated area in New Zealand is used by dairy farms. The balance is used by a wide variety of land uses including sheep and beef, deer, viticulture, horticulture and arable.

Greenpeace is ignorantly unaware of all the good work being done by regional councils and just as importantly by local communities. Together at the grass roots we are working through ways in which water quality will be maintained or improved over the next 10 to 20 years.  This is not just about farmers doing their bit but all New Zealanders. Locals know what they want for water quality in their districts and we all need to get behind these collaborative initiatives to ensure we achieve sustainable outcomes that create a beautiful prosperous resilient New Zealand for all.


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