The driving forces behind a multimillion-dollar investigation of the potential for water storage in the Kaipara and Far North spent two days looking at how water had transformed marginal farmland into highly productive horticultural land in both districts.
Two initial studies, co-funded by the Northland Regional Council and central government, have identified about 6300ha of land, some of which may be suitable for conversion to high-value horticulture, in Kaipara as part of a water supply scheme, along with 1600ha south of Kaikohe and 1700ha to the west of Lake Omapere.
NRC chairwoman Penny Smart said, overall, Northland had a lot of water, but unfortunately not always at the right time.
"A lot of it comes at once, and at its heart, the project is about collecting water and making it available when it's needed," she said.
The project recently reached an important pre-feasibility demand assessment and design stage, which has seen major Northland landholders contacted to gather information needed to answer key questions, including what water could be used for given local soil types, land profile and climate.
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As well as assessing water user/grower demand, the pre-feasibility stage, which has a budget of up to $3 million, is also looking at where and how water could be collected, stored and distributed.
Initial indications are that with the availability of a secure water supply, horticulture and supporting industry could create hundreds of jobs and boost Northland's economy by tens of millions annually, potential that earned the project an $18.5m boost from the Provincial Growth Fund in July.
NRC is leading the project in collaboration with the Far North and Kaipara District councils and Northland Inc.
Smart said the true value of water to horticulture could be difficult to grasp by just seeing reports and taking part in discussion.
To aid understanding of what water potentially allowed, the council had organised two field trips to look at horticulture operations in the Far North – including the Aupouri Peninsula and Kerikeri – and at Tapora, near Wellsford.
Forty-six people attended over the two days, including land owners, farmers, tangata whenua and government staff.
"The field trips were a definite eye-opener for some, who saw first-hand how land that had been considered 'marginal at best' for farming had been transformed by water into highly-productive horticulture," Smart said.
Technology and innovation were at the forefront in managing water use, costs and sustainability, the latter a key consideration in Northland, where any local economic growth needed to be environmentally and culturally sensitive.
Water, she said, was just one of the components, albeit a key one, to transforming land.
"The market for horticultural produce is growing worldwide, however the level of investment needed for large land transformation is considerable."
For more info, see www.nrc.govt.nz/your-council/economic-development/water-storage-and-use-project/.