13 Feb 2015

Irrigation lobbyists ride the drought wave

3:39 pm on 13 February 2015

The official declaration of a state of drought in Canterbury, Marlborough and most of Otago has put irrigation interests on the front foot as they lobby for more investment in water storage

Irrigation New Zealand said the only way to prevent communities suffering drought in dry summers is through storing water from alpine sources.

It said there were several projects in the pipeline that need significant community, business and government support to proceed and the latest drought declaration strengthens the argument for further national investment in regional water storage.

Central Otago is one of the regions in the official drought zone.

Drought conditions in mid-Canterbury, January 2015

Drought conditions in mid-Canterbury, January 2015 Photo: Jeremy Talbot

Andrew Paterson, from Matakanui Station, north of Alexandra, said with water restrictions in force, farmers are discussing ways of augmenting local irrigation schemes.

"We're on the Falls Dam, which has really struggled, this latter part of the irrigation season. We've been on 50 percent since the end of last year and our own private water is at 50 percent and another community scheme we're involved in is running at about 50 percent as well.

"It's pushing a few people into thinking about irrigation storage, and we're actually investigating it ourselves at the moment and a lot of people have been thinking about these enlarged irrigation schemes going on around the country, but especially one in our valley. They're talking about enlarging the Falls Dam by ten times its present size."

Mr Paterson said that would increase the dam from 10 million cubic metres of water to 100 million.

Grape growers feel the pinch

In Marlborough, grape growers are also feeling the pinch of irrigation restrictions.

John Pickering, who owns a 35 hectare vineyard in Blenheim, said he was expecting his income to be less than half of last year's due to irrigation restrictions and a lack of rain. He's been growing grapes for almost eight years and said he had never seen it this dry before.

Mr Pickering said it was hard to know how many vines will be affected, but younger ones are struggling with the lack of water the most.

"Most of them are holding up at the moment but as I say, it's just coming up to harvest which will be the end of March, early April. It is certainly starting to take effect at the moment, the vines are starting to show the stress of no water.

"We had water off in early January for approximately two weeks, then we had it back on for a week or so and it's been off, I think, from about 27 January."

He said it was likely the harvest will be less than half of last year's.