Opinion: Water is a precious resource, but it is one we do not think about strategically, IrrigationNZ chief executive Vanessa Winning says.
It's time to have an adult conversation about water capture, storage, infrastructure and its use.
In a case of the curious croppers as highlighted on Newshub - we have a problem. A problem we have been aware of for decades. And we have a solution, one that has also been promoted for decades.
One would think this would be a happy marriage between the two. But alas personal interest, fears, and opinions get in the way.
As Duncan Garner said on Newshub, "Curious Croppers have produced top end tomatoes for decades and chances are if you've eaten out in Auckland in the past 30 years you have enjoyed their delicious tomatoes. But unless the drought is broken, they're toast, they won't make it."
That will become a reality for many fruit and veggie growers who will run out of water.
We need, now more than ever, to capture the water we are so blessed with – the water that comes from the sky; be it in the form of rain or snow. And we need to store that water so we can use it sensibly on our land, carefully in our homes, and to better support our rivers.
We must be less reliant on bores and streams, and instead think about how to fairly capture, store and more precisely use water, in order to reduce that reliance.
Listen to Jamie Mackay interview Vanessa Winning on The Country below:
If we cleverly collect our water we can ease pressure on catchments and more fairly allocate what is available - to existing users, new ones, and the environment - all while upholding Te Mana o te Wai.
Our climate is changing. The latest "Our Climate Report" from StatsNZ and Ministry for the
Environment showed the annual average temperature increased at 28 sites out of 30 for 1972–2019.
It showed the biggest areas of change in our country, where we are getting longer summers, drier periods, fires, or conversely more rain and weather events; both creating more damage to our precious environment.
In August, MfE also released its first ever "National Climate Change Risk Assessment Report" which put risks to land-based primary sector due to water availability as a major risk and risks to potable water supply as extreme.
It seems blindingly obvious that we need to de-risk our environment so we can continue to grow amazingly weird tomatoes, hops and barley for our craft beers, avocados for our toast and berries for our Christmas pavlova.
The conversation must move on from "more cows" or agriculture intensification, to food security, safety and supporting our communities with clean, fresh water.
Auckland has had a water storage and capture issue for decades.
Instead of relying on a water take from the Waikato river – which reduces flow with the potential to increase contaminants being washed to sea, as well as reducing the ability for businesses like that featured on Newshub to use that precious resource – they need to start fixing their own problems, taking responsibility for growing capacity.
The system operating in this area hasn't changed for more than 40 years, and in that time population growth has more than doubled.
To expect the same solution from the 70s to support 200 per cent more people and activity and food is crazy.
And at the same time, the Waikato river is relied on to produce food and export earnings from the likes of butter, milk and veges for its own region, which in turn puts pressure on the flows, biology and nutrient dilution.
Add the two together and no wonder we have issues with swimmability.
Large infrastructure options have been pushed back across the country for years, not just in Auckland. There is a cost, and someone has to pay and there are short term impacts too.
Often it is the farmers who benefit on their land who make the investment, but the whole community benefits from these schemes economically and environmentally with the right solutions.
But there is often a push back from the very people who want improvements in the water quality measures and biological make-up of our streams and rivers, that are against efficient capture and storage solutions.
We need to rationalise that conversation – be adults in the room. Work together for the right outcomes.
Water is a precious resource, but it is one we do not think about strategically.
I believe we let more than 90 per cent flow to the sea and we are not harvesting and using for optimal and holistic outcomes. We must urgently invest in the right solutions to capture, store and use this precious resource.
We need to change the conversation on water, and we need public and private partnership solutions to ensure we have food for tomorrow and de-risk against a changing climatic environment.
And while it is pleasing to see the fast track of the Matawii Water Storage Reservoir in Northland approved; this represents just a small drop in the ocean when it comes to what is needed.
Hopefully as part of our economic recovery, we will see more water infrastructure getting support from the Minister for the Environment as we emerge from the disruption of Covid and build back better with a long-term vision with many and varied benefits.
So I say, come on curious croppers, growers, gardeners and foodie enthusiasts - lets get together and make this happen!
• Vanessa Winning is the chief executive of IrrigationNZ.