Water is usually everywhere in Northland…. until it's not.
Northland's mild and humid climate means that rainfall is typically plentiful and flooding is one of the region's environmental hazards.
Yet most of the water is not saved for when we really need it.
This is never more evident than during drought conditions, which have been particularly strong over the summer of 2020.
Metservice has recorded lower than average rainfall for the past four months, and while autumn rains are starting to arrive, the deficit is still significant.
A reliable water supply would make a huge difference, allowing land owners to consider different types of land use.
The Water Storage and Use Project has been set up to explore the feasibility of developing community reservoirs in the mid North and Kaipara districts.
The project is backed by funding from the Provincial Growth Fund, with input from the Northland Regional Council, Far North District Council, Kaipara District Council and Northland Inc.
While primarily designed to support a move towards horticulture, the Water Storage and Use Project would also be available to assist existing town water supplies and greatly reduce the exposure to water restrictions during a drought.
Project development manager Andrew Carvell of Northland Regional Council, says landowners are being encouraged to explore ways their land could be transformed by a reliable source of water.
The project has so far identified several areas that might be suitable for the development of small-scale reservoirs which could then deliver water through a network of pipes in times of need.
"It is still very early days for this project, but extra investment from the Provincial Growth Fund in January this year has allowed us to make more progress on the earlier work,'' he says.
He says the project is aimed at harnessing surface water and the beauty is that the project is sustainable because the water resource would be replenished each winter.
"If we don't store the water, it all just drains away.''
Andrew says initial consultations with landowners south of Dargaville and in the Mid North had been positive.
"There has been strong interest. It will give people more options for the use of their land.''
Previous studies analysed the entire region before determining that the most benefit could be realised in the Kaipara and Mid North.
These were chosen because of suitable horticulture soils, close populations for potential labour force for horticultural ventures.
"The water is not intended for intensifying pastoral farming. It's to encourage horticulture because it employs more people and the land will yield more.''
A multi-disciplinary team of experts, including water resource scientists, dam engineers, environmental planners and horticulture scientists have worked together to determine possible configurations of the proposed water storage scheme.
Andrew says the proposed reservoirs are small-scale.
"These are not huge dams requiring large areas to be flooded.''
The reservoirs would be supplied from high-yielding water sources so the reservoirs are not constructed on major streams or rivers.
He says the scheme will benefit landowners and the wider community through increased employment opportunities and economic activity.
While not primarily designed to support public water supplies, it is expected that district councils may invest in the scheme to bolster public supply.
Land owners would be able to consider growing crops that have been impossible without reliable water.
"The possibilities are endless."
Andrew says Māori land holders will be able to get better value from their properties.
"Māori have a strong history of horticulture and reliable water would allow them to develop horticulture businesses and provide employment.''
Recommendations from the feasibility work will go to the Government with future work looking at the full costings will land owner demand which determine if the projects can go ahead.