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

Why will regions with the least swimmable rivers receive less funding to clean them up?

17th August 2017

IrrigationNZ is continuing to challenge the logic of Labour’s water tax proposal, after finding that regions with more swimmable rivers will receive more funding from the water tax, while those with the least swimmable rivers will receive less funding to….. Read more

Why tax irrigation to improve rivers if irrigated regions already have more swimmable rivers?

16th August 2017

IrrigationNZ is further challenging Labour’s plan to tax water used for irrigation to fund the clean-up of rivers after an analysis of the latest Ministry for the Environment data on water quality showed rivers in areas with irrigation are more….. Read more

‘Let’s Answer This’ – Questions mounting as New Zealanders demand answers on water tax

15th August 2017

‘Let’s Answer This’, a campaign to get key questions on Labour’s proposed water tax answered is gathering momentum –  while the fundamentals remain unclear. The questions were sent to Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern on Friday 11th August by non….. Read more

“Labour – Let’s Answer This” – New Zealander’s deserve answers on water tax

11th August 2017

In the absence of a policy from the Labour Party, the organisation representing irrigating farmers is seeking answers from Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern on how a new water tax on irrigation might work. “The Labour Party’s glib and misleading announcement….. Read more

Water conservation order threatens 1800 jobs in Hawke’s Bay and iconic Kiwi produce and wine

3rd August 2017

New Zealanders’ access to affordable local apples and stonefruit, along with around 1800 jobs in Hawke’s Bay, are under threat from a proposal to impose a water conservation order on the Ngaruroro River, says Irrigation New Zealand. The proposed water….. Read more

EVENTS

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 Operator and Manager Training – Cromwell

September 26 @ 10:00 am - 4:30 pm

Proudly supported by our Training Partners             TRAINING FOR IRRIGATION OPERATORS AND MANAGERS – IMPROVE YOUR IRRIGATION SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE CROMWELL Where:  Otago Polytech, Bannockburn Rd, Cromwell – Rm 12 When: 10am- 4pm Tuesday 26th September 2017 Cost: IrrigationNZ Members $350 +GST….. Read more

Irrigation Accreditation

Smart Irrigation