Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has defended multi-million dollar provincial growth fund money for Northland water storage – announced during a tough new government ban on land-use intensification.

Peters and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones were recently in Dargaville to announce up to $12.745 million PGF funding top-up for Northland water storage.

Peters said that final local manifestations of how New Zealand's national freshwater reforms eventually played out in the North – and other parts of New Zealand - meant the government's funding top up for Northland water storage project was not inappropriate.

"We are providing up to $12.745 million through the provincial growth fund to ensure the region (Northland) has a reliable water supply which can be used to develop underutilised land, grow new markets, create jobs and put more money into the local economy," Peters said.

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The Dargaville visit by Peters and Jones came just four months after another pair of government ministers jointly announced New Zealand's biggest freshwater management reforms in a generation. Minister for the Environment David Parker and Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor in September 2019 announced huge changes - among these an almost-immediate ban on any further primary industry land use intensification to halt worsening waterway pollution.

The freshwater reforms' consultation document Action for Healthy Waterways said the government wanted to tightly restrict any further intensification of land use through interim measures.

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The resulting ban is in place until 2025.

The reforms have been identified as a project risk. Among the implications of this risk are water storage project uptake. The degree of uptake is a critical influence on project success.

Northland Regional Council (NRC) is helming local PGF-funded water storage project work - with Far North and Kaipara district councils and Northland Inc.

It is promoting the water storage as transforming marginal farmland use into highly productive horticulture through access to reliable water. It's this week holding two workshops encouraging landowners and those in the primary sector to explore ways their land can be transformed with access to a reliable source of water.

Two meetings were held this month, in Dargaville on February 18 and at Ohaeawai Rugby Club on February 19.

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In December 2019 NRC held a two-day roadshow around Northland and northern Auckland Council (Tapora) showcased this position to almost 50 people.

A project pre-feasibility study by NRC contractors Williamson Water and Land Advisory (Auckland-based) is due for completion in March. This includes ranking the viability of identified water storage and use areas. It assesses demand from growers and water users.

Water take and storage options are also considered along with concept-level design engineering.

O'Connor came to Whangarei in September to present about the freshwater reforms at one of the biggest meetings of its type in Northland, attended by 400 angry people. He told the Whangarei meeting, consultation till then on the nationally-generated freshwater reform measures had shown regionally-different contributions to farming's effect on waterway quality. The Whangarei meeting was thirty-seventh out of 45 nationally during what was one of New Zealand's biggest-ever government legislation change consultation rounds.

Farming intensification development after 2025 must be managed through the Resource Management Act.

Ministry for the Environment principal scientist and meeting presenter Chris Daughney told the Whangarei meeting the bar would be "quite high" when it came to the resource consenting.

The intensification ban announcement caused national farmer outcry, among angry opponents former Agriculture Minister and now Ruawai beef farmer Lockwood Smith.

The Dargaville-announced January Northland water storage funding top up brought the government's total project investment to more than $31 million - after its initial $18.5 million PGF spend into the project in July 2018.

Carl Muller Kerikeri Irrigation chairman has spoken out in favour of the latest $12 million dollar plus government-funding for the Northland water storage project.

"A hectare of land in sustainable horticulture can return significantly more than one supporting pastoral farming. You can bring positive change to entire communities by giving people the opportunity to do more with their land," Muller said.

The initial Kerikeri irrigation scheme was built in the mid-eighties, enabling widespread horticultural land use conversion and intensification on pastoral land.

Current areas in Northland NRC has currently identified as potentially suitable for the latest water storage development area broadly surrounding Kaikohe, Ohaeawai and Waimate North in the mid North. An area south of Dargaville in Kaipara has also been identified.