Irrigation New Zealand

Large-scale irrigation in New Zealand began in the late 19th century. During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, several large-scale storage and irrigation projects, such as the Rangitata Diversion Race, were built using government funding. The majority of major schemes were constructed after 1960 in the Canterbury and Central Otago regions.

The following map shows government-owned irrigation schemes prior to 1989, and the number of hectares they irrigated. It excludes on-farm irrigation owned by private individuals or entities.

The rationale for government involvement in developing, subsidising and maintaining community irrigation schemes changed from period to period:

New Zealand irrigation schemes

    • Between 1910 and 1935, New Zealand government involvement followed the history of government assistance of irrigation by colonial governments in Australia. Policies aimed to mitigate drought, take advantage of existing water rights and reclaim mining land.
    • After 1935, the first Labour government expanded the irrigation programme to boost employment and make greater use of the water resource.
    • In the 1950’s, a Select Committee concluded that direct government intervention was necessary because individual farmers could not obtain the required finance, technology and labour, despite concerns being raised about the financial implications of the schemes.
    • From the 1960’s to 1980’s, community schemes were increasingly viewed as a farm management tool to intensify agricultural production, and new irrigation schemes were justified as being in the national interest by virtue of having economywide benefits.
    • In 1987, questions were raised about the national benefit and central government’s ability to manage and recover costs. A risk that government intervention could distort incentives and crowd out private investment also became apparent.
    • In 1988, central government began to transfer ownership of the Crown schemes to farmers. No schemes now remain in Crown ownership.
    • In 1991, responsibility for approving schemes was devolved to local government under the Resource Management Act 1991. Central government instead focused its efforts on funding science and technology development, and on facilitating the planning and proposal development process, through initiatives such as the Sustainable Farming Fund and the Community Irrigation Fund.

    Several major schemes have been developed since devolution, including Opuha (1998, 16,000 ha), Waimakariri (1999, 18,000ha), North Otago Stage 1 (2006, 10,000ha), and the Wai-iti Valley Augmentation Dam (800,000m3), which also opened in 2006.

    The sharply contrasting ways in which community irrigation schemes in New Zealand were developed and managed before and after 1990 illustrate the operation of decentralised vis-à-vis centralised (planning) industry governance systems. While the evidence is not easily quantifiable, what evidence there is suggests that the shift to a decentralised system that took place about 1990 coincides with improved irrigation efficiency. Today, farmer owned companies – rather than State owned – are responsible and accountable for scheme development and management. In combination with the RMA – which enables a decentralised approach to resource use – this has facilitated innovation in scheme design, more efficient management, and better water use. It has also revealed more precisely the value of water in irrigation. This decentralised system has also highlighted the difficulties for many communities to raise early commitment and funding to determine the viability.

    Further Information

    National Infrastructure Plan – March 2010 Part 3 – Facts and Issues, Sectoral Analysis, Rural water infrastructure.

    Gudgeon, J., Physical stock accounts for Water, Key Statistics, Statistics New Zealand, August 2004

    White, P.A., Sharp, B.M.H., and Reeves, R.R. 2004. ‘New Zealand Water Bodies of National Importance for domestic and industrial use IGNS contract report 2004/12 prepared for Ministry of Economic Development, Wellington.

    Nimmo-Bell report (2000) cited in internal MAF background paper, 2004 “Water in New Zealand Agriculture: Resilience and Growth”.

    The Audit Office (1987) Report of the Audit Office: Ministry of Works and Development: Irrigation Schemes (Wellington: Government Printer).

NEWS

June 2017 E-newsletter

9th June 2017

Have a read at the e-newsletter we’ve just sent out.

May 2017 E-newsletter

26th May 2017

Have a read at the e-newsletter that we’ve just sent out: click here.

IrrigationNZ welcomes new government funding for irrigation

18th May 2017

Today’s announcement of an additional $90 million funding for irrigation is great news for New Zealand communities, says IrrigationNZ CEO, Andrew Curtis. “Sustainable irrigated agriculture is New Zealand’s future. It underpins many of the provincial economies on the east coast….. Read more

‘Our fresh water 2017’ highlights the need for collective action

27th April 2017

The release of ‘Our fresh water 2017’ is a call to action for all New Zealanders, says IrrigationNZ CEO, Andrew Curtis. The report measures fresh water quality, quantity and flows, biodiversity and cultural health. “This report highlights the impact we….. Read more

Testing Irrigation Efficiency – what’s really going on on-farm

12th April 2017

IrrigationNZ has spent the summer gathering data on farms around Canterbury to get a better, more accurate understanding of irrigation efficiency. The results, say INZ Project Manager, Steve Breneger, will provide a benchmark for progress. “We’ve been on-farm for the….. Read more

EVENTS

Irrigation Fundamentals

August 8 @ 8:30 am - August 9 @ 5:00 pm

Irrigation fundamentals is a 2 day course targeting new entrants to the industry and frontline staff of businesses and organisations that provide services to the irrigation industry. The aim of the 2 days is to give people a comprehensive overview of the….. Read more

New Zealand Certificate in Irrigation System Performance Assessment

September 18 @ 8:30 am - September 20 @ 5:00 pm

Gain the skills and knowledge to carry out assessments of irrigation systems in order to determine how efficiently they are operating. This Level 4 NZQA certificate runs for 7 months and requires some previous knowledge and experience in irrigation. You….. Read more

Irrigation Accreditation

Smart Irrigation