Key Points:

About 500 years ago Leonardo da Vinci said: "Water is the driving force of all nature."

As farmers we harness nature, we harvest it for our families and society, and we nurture it for future generations. We are the custodians of our land and water resource.

When we talk about water storage let's not do that in isolation of nature, of the driving force of water and the importance of the environment. We need to take a smart, balanced approach.

In the city you don't wait for the rain to fall before you have a cup of tea. In the city we have water at the right place at the right time. We store water, we bank it, we save on the rainy day and so we can use it when it isn't raining.

So why not do more of the same in the country?

The story of New Zealand is not complex - fertile land, it rains, we grow grass, which we convert into protein. We sell this to a hungry and prosperous world helping to pay for our social and other services.

It's a measure of a nation how it looks after its vulnerable people but we need export dollars to do this.

When you look at the planet, we have the one thing that many don't have - an abundance of fresh water.

This is what makes us a First World nation, rather than a Third World nation.

We often say Australia is the lucky country - under the expanse of their sand they have "treasure" which they mine.

In New Zealand we should look to the expanse of our sky. Water is our iron ore. It's what makes us a lucky country.

Civilisations over the centuries have learned that water is the key to prosperity, to the environment, to happiness. The Romans, the Greeks, Egyptians knew this.

Like those civilisations we need more fish and less drought.

We know from Opua and other schemes that the environment, recreational values, the community spirit, and the economy are all enhanced by using smart water storage strategies. And I've yet to meet a fish that doesn't like water 365 days a year.

It's not that Canterbury is running out of water, it's that the water is running out of Canterbury.

Federated Farmers want the Government to:

* Put water storage on the list of infrastructure projects that the Government supports to help the nation through the financial crisis.

* Reduce the hurdles that make the gestation for such projects long, risky and expensive, such as the RMA.

* Review legal instruments that prevent common sense solutions for water storage.

* Offer bridging finance - if we can back banks, why not water banks? Using appropriate models, the Government could help fund projects through the long capital intensive gestation. As with roading infrastructure, the benefits accrue to the whole community so we believe Government financial involvement is appropriate. However unlike roading, water storage infrastructure provides direct positive cash flows and enormous export dollar growth benefits over the long term. The Cullen fund with its new mandate to invest 40 per cent of funds in New Zealand is one source of funds, but there may be other options that need to be explored.

* Review the Sate Highway 20 Waterview connection tunnel with a view to cancelling it. This 3.1km "tunnel with no hill" is costed at about $1.9 billion or about $600 million a kilometre. Build the road but cancel the tunnel and use some of the savings for water storage projects. The return to the country will be far greater.

* Include water storage as part of its practical and formal policy response to global warming.

* Factor water storage into policy formulation on water allocation and other water frameworks and issues, such as potential Treaty issues as it can dramatically change the dynamic.

Lao Tzu said: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

Well, give a Kiwi a rain shower and he fishes and farms for a day. Give him water storage and he will fish and farm for a lifetime.

David Carter, the new Minister of Agriculture, deserves high praise for convening the Water Infrastructure Forum in December.

We are a lucky country, we just maybe don't realise it. As a whole community let's take action to set this nation up for more fish, less drought for the century ahead.

Let's earn more export dollars to help pay for those vital services that every New Zealander expects as a First World country.

The great Leonardo da Vinci would surely agree.

* Conor English is CEO of Federated Farmers.