|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 conservation order will reduce the current water that can be taken from the Ngaruroro River from around 6,300 l/s (6.3 cumecs) to just under 1,600 l/s (1.6 cumecs) when the river flow is less than 70 cumecs.
Data from Hawkes Bay Regional Council shows the mean river flow was less than 70 cumecs throughout the whole period from mid October 2016 to April 2017, a critical time for crops.
Water from the river is currently used to irrigate around 7,300 hectares, but the reduced river take proposed in the water conservation order would result in only half this area having sufficient water.
Andrew Curtis, CEO of Irrigation New Zealand, says the order would put many businesses under threat as crops would not be protected from drought and crop quality production targets could not be met.
Vineyard, orchard, packhouse and processing jobs under threat
“The river supports an agricultural landscape which people know and love as iconically Hawke’s Bay, with river water being used by local orchards, vineyards and cropping farmers for over 150 years,” says Mr Curtis. “This landscape and the jobs it creates is now under threat from the water conservation order.”
Affected jobs include vineyard and orchard workers, staff working in packhouses, vegetable processors and many others across Hawkes Bay. The 1,800 jobs lost would be around half of the estimated 3,650 jobs supported by irrigated land from the Ngaruroro River and Clive Rivers on the Heretaunga Plains.
Apples, peaches, nectarines, vegetables and red wine more expensive
Not only that, but consumers would also miss out on the iconic Kiwi produce and red wine they love.
“For consumers there would be less access to New Zealand apples and stonefruit, along with higher prices in the supermarkets. There are also many premium vineyards located next to the river so people could also see some of their favourite New Zealand red wines disappear,” says Mr Curtis.
Protect the upper Ngaruroro River
The water conservation order is proposed for the entire length of the Ngaruroro River; its tributaries and groundwater connected to the Lower Ngaruroro River; and 7km of the Clive River. Mr Curtis says Irrigation New Zealand does not object to the water conservation order in the upper reaches of the Ngaruroro River, which has special features and needs to be protected.
But he adds: “The lower Ngaruroro, its lowland tributaries and the Clive River have been highly modified. We do not see how these sections of the rivers could meet the outstanding values or features needed to qualify for a water conservation order.”
Growers on the Heretaunga Plains, many of whom draw water for irrigation from the Ngaruroro River, produce much of New Zealand’s domestic apple, nectarine and peach crops, as well as premium red wine and vegetable crops such as onions, sweetcorn and squash. Around 60% of New Zealand’s apple crop is grown in Hawkes Bay, with most of these apples grown on the irrigated area of the plains.
Mr Curtis is urging Hawkes Bay residents to make a submission opposing the water conservation order being applied to the lower Ngaruroro River.
“The Fruit Bowl of New Zealand is under attack – we need to ensure local orchards, vineyards, and cropping farmers can continue to grow their produce whilst keeping thousands of local people in employment.”
The water conservation order has been jointly lodged by the NZ Fish and Game Council, Hawke’s Bay Fish and Game Council, Ngāti Hori ki Kohupatiki, Whitewater NZ, Jet Boating NZ and the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of NZ and is open for public submissions until 24 August 2017.
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