Hawke's Bay Regional Council Water Information services team is running a pilot scheme with the support of Irrigation NZ.

The pilot offers free irrigation checks to growers to help them get the best results for crops and production costs.

"This irrigation initiative is the start of a wider programme where HBRC will be talking to all key players, seeking their support for efficient water use with a voluntary pledge to reduce use by 10 per cent. Achieving this target could reduce the need for rationing, or reductions on takes," says Mark Heaney, HBRC's manager of client services.

"We now have a better understanding of the use of our water resources across the region and the effect of taking water on the aquifer. We are looking to the big water users, and working with local councils to promote responsibilities to conserve water as a valued resource.

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"If we can meet the 10 per cent challenge with water use leader support, we could save enough to irrigate for longer, potentially saving crops in the event of drought conditions."

HBRC's Water Information Services team (WIS) irrigation efficiency scheme aims to cover 60 sites – a variety of farms, orchards and cropping. HBRC is still able to sign up growers who would like to take advantage of the free checks.

Two university students have been employed to assist with the programme. They are monitoring up to two irrigation systems per landowner using a simple bucket test, and also asking irrigators about their water use practices.

"There will be numerous benefits of this project, both for individual growers who get an on-the-ground evaluation of their essential systems, and for the industry as a whole to develop a better understanding of water use and availability. Water efficiency is now a necessity, as we face increasing dry periods," says Monique Benson from HBRC's Water Information Services team.

Results of each check are shared with the grower, and advice is provided on next steps to sort out any problems.

"Irrigators benefit by improving their productivity and profitability, and they can gain some skills and knowledge of irrigation auditing. The region benefits by having data to help develop better water policies for the future."

The Twyford Water Users Group is an example of irrigators working together to gain better water use.

The group formed in response to challenges imposed by more frequent and longer water take bans in their area. Their collaboration has resulted in innovation and a much better understanding of how much water crops need and when.