2003 – Irrigation Storages in New Zealand

Water supply for irrigation of horticulture and agriculture in New Zealand has gained considerable momentum since the mid 1990’s. The rapid growth of the wine industry in areas such as Marlborough (located at the top of the South Island) and dairy conversions in many areas of South Canterbury are prime examples of the pressure being applied to existing water supplies and sources and the increasing need for new irrigation supplies and security of supply.

The larger irrigation projects of the past were implemented by the government – schemes such as the Rangitata Diversion race and the Lower Waitaki irrigation project both on the east coast of the South Island. The 1990’s and early 2000’s has seen a largely hands off government approach to potential irrigation projects with the shift towards leaving it to market forces to build irrigation schemes. The result has been that due to significant larger project risks and capital cost requirements with often multi party stakeholder groups, only relatively small schemes have been implemented – the Waimakariri irrigation scheme and Opuha irrigation dam are a few examples. However, in recent years with the value of water increasing several significant irrigation projects promoted by private enterprise or progressive district councils with farmer groups are being investigated and a few may be close to implementation.

The recent drought conditions have focussed attention on the need for storages to maintain security of supply and, together with the balance with sustainability, the consenting environment in New Zealand and existing river/aquifer allocations, significant challenges to development are presented.

Specific case examples include the proposed Delta dam near Blenheim being developed by a private group of irrigators and the Bankhouse development being implemented by a private owner in the same Marlborough region.

This paper provides a background to irrigation in the South Island and describes these two proposed schemes and associated storage dams, together with an insight into the key issues related to the proposed projects.

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