In February 2020, the Auditor-General released a report acknowledging all the work under way to address New Zealand's water management challenges, such as the Action for Healthy Waterways and the Three Waters Review.

He concluded that, outside those two work programmes, there remains a need for greater central leadership to define a shared vision for New Zealand that sets out the strategic objectives and priorities for water management and how this can be collectively delivered.

In light of Covid-19 and the very real issue of climate change, water management has reached a matter of national urgency.

The highly visible current plight of Hawke's Bay farmers with acres of parched land and livestock at risk of starvation, has further highlighted a gaping hole in New Zealand's infrastructure.

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It is increasingly clear we need smart and environmentally friendly water-storage solutions to address the issues of climate change while at the same time power up regional Aotearoa New Zealand to be a diverse and powerful productive entity.

We only use only 2 per cent of the plentiful water that lands in our country each year.

It's written in Labour's confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party to improve water quality, shift to more diverse and sustainable land use including more forestry, improve water quality and prioritise achieving healthy rivers, lakes and aquifers with stronger regulatory instruments, funding for freshwater enhancement, winding down Government support for irrigation, and to better enforce the Resource Management Act.

But why would we wind down support for channelling water where it is needed when it is clear we do not have enough reliable water to sustain our existing primary industries?

And while the world is grappling with a pandemic of catastrophic proportions and a massive economic fallout, we have an opportunity to position ourselves as a trusted food-producing nation.

We must stop demonising our farmers, when urban pollution is worse.

Fletcher Tabuteau:
Fletcher Tabuteau: "We urgently need a New Zealand-wide strategy for water management that brings all competing stakeholders to the table, not just some".

Rather, we should be looking at what our strategic advantages are and supporting that. This would include adapting to higher environmental standards and practices.

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There are also huge opportunities available to diversify land and develop previously underutilised land, especially for lucrative, niche, high-end horticultural products.

We must find ways to better catch our water when it is plentiful, and use it smartly when it is scarce. At the very least, we should raise our catchment of rainfall to between 5 and 10 per cent.

Thankfully the Provincial Growth Fund, the brain child of New Zealand First, has been a beacon of hope despite the anti water-storage brigade.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

The PGF has recognised the benefits of water-storage projects to grow our regions and to make this fit within Government imperatives has specified that these be smaller-scale, locally run and environmentally sustainable.

These projects are all bound by the PGF water principles which insist on environmental sustainability and delivering multiple benefits across a community.

Water storage does not need to be labelled an atrocity in our natural landscape if it is done tastefully and sustainably. We could decide on "no-go" areas and environmental and visual factors can be factored into design.

The freshwater reforms are a consequence of long-term water quality problems in rural and urban New Zealand. A further challenge is water storage and economic productivity in our primary sector. In this sense there is a need for robust leadership to ensure that water resilience becomes a physical reality and not policy palaver.

We urgently need a New Zealand-wide strategy for water management that brings all competing stakeholders to the table, not just some.

Appropriately stored water is a good thing and absolutely needs to be part of the solution in New Zealand's post-Covid sustainable economic recovery.

• Fletcher Tabuteau is the under secretary for Regional Economic Development and Deputy Leader of NZ First.