Water storage becomes vital in changing climate

Last updated 07:49 14/01/2014
Water storage ponds on Caberfeidh Station.
Fairfax NZ

DROUGHT-BUSTER: Water storage, such as these ponds on a South Island farm, reduces a farmer's dependence on groundwater, which helps maintain natural flows, Federated Farmers Waikato provincial president James Houghton says.

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OPINION: Now most of you will be back from a well-rested break, having indulged yourselves silly and feeling a little guilty perhaps? Well just thought you might like to know, like most farmers, I have been kept busy as farming is a 365-day-a-year job. Thankfully, summer has been kind to us so far and the ever-increasing threat of drought has been kept at bay.

Looking to the year ahead, I am hoping we will see an improvement in people and organisations being accountable for their actions and learning from their mistakes. Last year, we saw some disappointing performances in the biosecurity area and animal welfare. We also seem to be struggling with the ever-increasing reality that we need a reliable source of water to maintain a sustainable primary industry and our economic independence. When corporates make a mistake, they need to do what is right and not solely focus on the dollar.

My hope is that we learn from past experiences and make changes for the better. If we don't, how are we meant to protect ourselves from risk or make progress and develop ourselves? The climate and water debates paint this picture well, time and time again.

While we all accept the climate is changing, there are dividing views on the cause and the impacts it will have. Looking at climate change and the history behind it, there have been huge cyclical periods and changes since the climate began to be recorded. With this ever-changing climate, we need to adapt and learn from our past. We know droughts are becoming more frequent and more costly, so rather than sit and wait for it to happen again and see billions of dollars flushed down the drain, why not invest in water storage?

It seems the obvious response, as we have seen what happens and what will continue to happen if we keep leaving it to the wills of the gods - we will remain vulnerable. To give you an idea of how much droughts cost New Zealand, from 2007 to 2009 the country lost an estimated $2.8 billion. Water storage is not just a farming tool, it is a legitimate climate- adaptation tool as well and vital tool for enhancing land and water quality.

Stored rainwater provides the means to maintain minimum river flows, which keeps our rivers clean. Water storage needs to be a part of our environmental infrastructure as much as it needs to be part of our economic infrastructure. With stored water, it reduces our dependence on groundwater, which helps maintain natural flows. It is schemes such as Opuha, and the Ruataniwha now being proposed in the Hawke's Bay, which New Zealand needs to build resilience into our economy and communities.

We are hoping that this year the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management will empower local communities and improve the level of discussion and information. Without discussion and the right information, we will just keep walking in circles and pointing fingers.

I am looking forward to the emotional debate dying down and the scientific discussion beginning, with the National Policy Statement getting us all on the same page. With an accounting system for measuring water quantity and quality, it will reduce much of the subjective emotion that has typified the discussion and sets bottom lines for water quality.

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Finally, I would like to take this chance to send my condolences to the family who has just lost their 6-year-old boy down south. It is an absolute tragedy and my heart goes out to the family.

* James Houghton is Federated Farmers Waikato provincial president.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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