14 Aug 2015

Canty plains irrigation scheme opens

7:12 pm on 14 August 2015

An irrigation scheme that's expected to bring $1 billion to the economy annually was opened in Canterbury today.

Irrigation has brought cattle to land once grazed by sheep.

Irrigation has brought cattle to land once grazed by sheep. Photo: RNZ / Graeme Acton

The Central Plains Water Irrigation Scheme will irrigate 60,000 hectares of dairy, horticulture and stock land between the Rakaia and Waimakariri Rivers.

The first stage of the scheme, which will enable 20,000 hectares of farmland to be irrigated, was officially opened today.

Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy said the water storage project would reduce the use of deep ground water.

"This is an exciting day for the Canterbury region. Given that farmers and growers have suffered through a severe drought this year, this shows the clear need for this kind of water storage project."

Mr Guy said having less deep groundwater abstraction would improve water quality in Lake Ellesmere.

"Providing this reliable water supply is estimated to generate economic activity of between $1 billion and $1.4 billion, and around 1100 new full-time equivalent jobs," he said.

Water New Zealand chief executive John Pfahlert said the scheme would ensure a strong and vibrant farming community in the inner Canterbury plains.

"This will support many more people in the community than historical dry land farming."

Mr Pfahlert said the Central Plains Water scheme was expected to provide benefits to the environment, but it was important to highlight the ongoing issue of monitoring water quality.

"It is essential that the Canterbury Regional Council (ECAN), as the regulator, ensures appropriate monitoring and enforcement of resource consents."

He said ongoing farmer commitment to efficient irrigation would go a long way to achieving good environmental performance.

The scheme is planned as a three stage development, with work on stage two already underway.

The billboard Angus Robson erected in Christchurch protesting the Central Plains Water irrigation scheme

The billboard Angus Robson erected in Christchurch protesting the Central Plains Water irrigation scheme Photo: Supplied/Angus Robson