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Water storage critical to NZ's big future

Water storage critical to NZ's big future

By Conor English
New Zealand is big. Our land mass is 67 percent the size of Germany’s, 72 percent of Japan's and bigger than the United Kingdom. Our coast is longer than mainland USA and our economic zone around two thirds the size of Australia.

Critically our skies give us abundant fresh water, our land fertile soils, and our total exclusive economic zone significant mineral resource. So while some consider Australia to be lucky, so are we.   

See Alex Tarrant's article on government water spending announcement here.
But the economic reality is that we are hanging onto the cliff face of first world status by our finger tips. If we are to climb that cliff face as a country, we need to face the fact that we must produce stuff and ideas to sell to the world to pay some bills and maintain our standard of living. We must better use and harvest our resources and we need to invest in and leverage productive assets, people and ideas.
Yes we do need to build on our core strength, agriculture. When we look at the diamond that is New Zealand, it is agriculture that sparkles brightest. But we can’t remain a one trick pony. We need more big intellectual companies based here in New Zealand, we need investment in broadband - rural broadband in particular, and we need to carefully harvest our significant mineral resources. And critically we need more water storage.  
Farmers are the custodians of our land and water resources, which they harvest for the benefit of their families, community and country, and nurture for future generations.  Water's allocation, management, quality and storage are all in play right now.  Indeed the decisions that are made in the next couple of years will be felt for the next half century.  If we get that wrong, our success as a nation, will be constrained. If we get the balances right, then our ability to harvest and benefit from one of our critical comparative advantages will be enhanced. There are some complex decisions to make.

Water quality, which is a critical factor in the urban / rural relationship,  needs smart solutions, based on objective science informing practical, economic solutions, not political rhetoric. Significant money and effort is now going into this by our agricultural sector.
Water storage will enable “more fish and less drought” and build resilience into our economy and environment.  In the city you don’t have to wait for the rain to fall before you have a cup of tea. In the city, we have access to water at the right place at the right time. In the city we store water, we bank it, we save it on a rainy day so we can use it when it isn’t raining.  So why not do more of the same in the country?
It’s not that New Zealand is running out of water, it’s that water is running out of New Zealand.
The Greeks, Romans and Egyptians built their civilisations on water.  We know from the Opua dam that the environment, recreational values, the economy and community spirit are all enhanced by using smart water storage strategies. I’ve yet to meet a fish that doesn’t like water 365 days a year.  
Government studies of that project tell us that every 1000ha irrigated creates 27 jobs and injects $7.7 million into the local economy. With 30 potential projects covering around 1 million Ha up the eastern seaboard that’s about $7.5 billion extra revenue for the country each year, and 27,000 new jobs.  Over a decade that’s $75 billion extra cash for the country, if all potential projects came to 100% fruition, which is unlikely however.
New Zealand’s recession was kicked off by the 2008 drought, not the Global Financial Crisis. MAF estimated that it cost about NZ$2.8 billion. To put into context, the Rugby World Cup, which will be great, is expected to have something like a billion dollar benefit, so the 2008 drought cost the equlivent of the benefit from 3 RWCs.  

Whatever your views on global warming, if you think it is going to get hotter it’s not a bad idea to store some water! This is particularly the case if 65% of your export dollars are from the primary sector. Those countries who have water storage infrastructure who will navigate though potential practical challenges the best.
So if we want to set our nation up for success for the next half century, and to improve our economic and environmental resilience, then all involved - including the government - need to get focussed on achieving smart water storage strategies. I hope they are up for it.

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The world isn’t suffering from global warming. If scientists become too myopic and focus too hard on CO2 the real culprit is going to slip by and it will be too late to fix anything. Humanity is suffering from “Global Drying”. The science has not caught up to the real problem. Desertification is a real issues moving forward and fresh water will be the next oil. New Zealand is the Saudi Arabia of fresh water and it needs to be very careful how that kind of global power is best utilized.


I think you're being a little cavalier in your attitude to climate change. The Greenhouse Effect has be incontroversial in scientific circles since the chemist and geologist Thomas Sterry Hunt proposed the theory in 1878. Its not a conspiracy by the New World Order as a pretext to usher in a Totalitarian World Government as conspiracy theorists of both the "Left" and "Right" would have you believe.

"Hunt first proposed the theory which linked climate change to concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at a meeting for the British Society for the Advancement of Science in the fall of 1878. This was a few years before Arrhenius established the theory of the greenhouse effect." 

As to whether scientists can accurately model the climate in all its dynamically complexity to provide a conclusive and definitive prediction of future climactic conditions even a century out, I'm not sure. There are just too many variable, factors, and feedback loops that influence climactic change. I personally adhere to the precautionary principle, because climate change is a threat thats just too serious to accept the risk. Its not even a matter of needing government interference in our affairs. We just need to constrain our governments, because much wasteful and damaging economic activity wouldn't occur without government intervention. Capitalism finds itself in the highly ironic position where the economic future of the West is underpinned by the fate of ostensibly Communist China.

"If development has scarred American landscapes and shredded ecosystems — and it has, Mr. Babbitt and Mr. Kennedy argue — much of the damage has been done with the connivance of the federal government. They say it is time to marshal the federal government's legislative, scientific, financial and even moral resources to solve the problems that are the legacy of these decisions.  " 

"Humanity is suffering from “Global Drying”. The science has not caught up to the real problem. Desertification is a real issues moving forward and fresh water will be the next oil. New Zealand is the Saudi Arabia of fresh water and it needs to be very careful how that kind of global power is best utilized. "

Actually policy makers, civil society, economists, and scientists are well aware of the problem, but because of its priceless nature, its a far more controversial issue as its got immense political, philosophical, and economic implications. Far greater than climate change in fact.

By far the best historical and contempory exploration of the issue is Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization by Steven Solomon. I was looking for a suitable companion to A Forest Journey: The Role of Wood in the Development of Civilization  by John Perlin and stumbled across it in my local bookstore after fruitless searching on the internet. It reveals how thoroughly undervalued a substance, water is and just how important it is for more than merely survival. The author illustrates how in order to flourish, societies have need to exploit and manage progressively more and more water as they become more complex. It appears that water more than energy is determines the comparative success of civilizations, though they generally go hand in hand. Sometimes the more water is exploited, the more energy is needed, but on the other hand, the better managed water is, the more energy a society can generate, as in the form of water mills and more recently hydroelectricity.

As someone is yet comparatively young, 28, myself and my as yet unborn children, will inherit the world, long after many who determined its fate have gone. Because I will be forced to bear the costs of the actions of others, I believe I have a stake in shaping how the future will unfold. I will be living in a world, where the society I am part of will confront the dire threats of climate change, resource depletion, overpopulation,  economic decline, and  resource wars, whilst those who contributed and gained from many of what have become serious problems, have long gone.

I myself have little faith that the political and institutional structures of this country are up to the task of confronting the challenges ahead. Our decisionmaking is hobbled by the polarized nature of contemporary political discourse mainly due to ideological baggage from the 19th Century that was inappropriate for the 20th Century and far less so now. Because I am convinced that today's institutional and political arrangements aren't equipped to meet the challenges of tomorrow, I've felt obliged to educate and inform myself with the knowledge that will qualify me to share my opinions that will shape arrangements that will be more appropriate for the task ahead. In my wide reading its sobering the parallels one can draw from the experience of past civilization's in confronting very similar challenges as we face today. Producing food, cultural change, political struggles, population growth, water exploitation, energy, environmental damage. I'm mindful of the difficulty drawing conclusive and definitive parallels when we have rather fragmentary evidence and past civilizations operated within different climactic, topographic, social, and political circumstances.  With that in mind I am a believer in those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

If one feels entitled to the accrouments of modern life at least be honest about the political and institutional structures that deliver them.. Its funny how ones antipathy towards government interference is off one's mind when in need of the public purse to fund one's pet project.

"conspiracy theorists of both the "Left" and "Right" would have you believe."

Indeed it never ceases to amaze me just how much the two extremes have in common, you cant really tell them apart at times....



I thank you for the history lesson. I’m well aware of the math and science behind the climate change hypothesis. And I use the term hypothesis because the corner stone of any theory of science is the ability to predict future fundamental comportments. We may be able to model current climate and weather patterns but so far science has failed miserable to predict any tangible climate vicissitudes. I’m not arguing for or against the idea of climate change. I’m not even denying the possibility that the Earth is rapidly warming and that it’s anthropomorphic. With population numbers approaching 10 billion it would be silly to think that humans do not have any impact. I take umbrage with the idea that somehow CO2 is the main culprit or that there is direct correlation with the level of CO2 in the atmosphere in the amount of greenhouse effect. A simple back of the envelope calculation on the effectiveness of CO2 as a greenhouse gas tells me that 1) CO2 is even more dangerous a pollutant then we previously thought and humans have been having a direct effect on climate since the advent of agriculture. If this is true then as little as 1 million humans instigated desertification and ushered in the age of climate change over 5000 years ago. If this is in fact true, which I admit could be, they we would have to decimate the population of this planet to a mere 100,000 individuals scattered across the globe to sustain both the human race and the earth.  2) CO2 isn’t the underlying cause of global drying and that something even more profound is happening and CO2 is distracting us for the true underlying cause. I this is true we need to move past the CO2 debate and dedicate more resources to find the real problem so we can find real solutions.

I will be more than happy to debate the facts but I will not debate political or social philosophy. And I will not allow the debate to get hijacked for others to press their world view on others. So if you’re going to take the tact that it’s best to be safe than sorry and us should all shred our current wealth and live out of huts in a more “sustainable” lifestyle I’m not interested. I’m not concerned with anyone’s white guilt or noble savage constructs.

I don't agree that climate change is a hypothesis. Its an observed fact, but I don't dispute that the mechanisms have been nailed down yet. Its a fact that a feature of human nature, is that we often seize upon an explanation fora complex issue that is simple and we apply it too broadly when the issue requires more nuanced analysis which take into account the issues multifaced contexts. I see CO2 as merely one of many multirelated variables, which I believe is generally accepted by the scientific community. Its part of the positive feedback mechanism that regulates the Earth's climate, but as the CO2 in the atmosphere increases it overwhelms the complementary negative feedback mechanisms which balances it out. I've done a few papers in Environmental Science at Massey and one of them described the Milankovitch cycles as a possible explanation for climate change. I wouldn't go so far as to say that they are the culprit for the change in the climate that has been observed in recent years and predicted only increase in the years ahead, but I believe that they certainly have an influence perhaps just as much as CO2.

Its only the spectacle driven media and ideologically driven extremists from both sides of the spectrum who are responsible for the polarized nature of the debate.

I agree with your thesis that climate change has been driven by man's actions well since he inhabited the earth's landmasses in any numbers. You're in no danger of being faced with a debate shaped by white guilt or a veneration of the "noble savage" from me. I believe that groups that are romanticised by others in the environmental movement such as the San Bushmen and the Australian aborigines are responsible for as much environmental damage as civilized societies prior to the Industrial Revolution.

An Australian farming expert that I highly regard, Peter Andrews claims that the Aborigines severely altered the climate in Australia through their extensive burning of vegetation to favour more nutritious plants which would encourage the population growth of their prey animals. This significantly changed the hydrological cycle of the Australian landcape, because their was a complex interrelationship between the geology, hydrology, and vegetation in the generally flat, dry land. Masandobu Fukuoka heraled as one of the foremost exemplers of sustainable farming in the world, wrote that people shouldn't glamorise what he viewed as their primitive state where they were forced to adapt their societies to the environment rather than shape it to meet their needs, because he believed that it was a consequence of having to adapt to a harsh forbidding environment which was largely of their own making.

I'm not doctrinaire. I'm probably more pro-freemarket than the Business Round Table, though none of them could be described as truly principled Free Market advocates, only when it suits their corporate bottom line. They'd be as assiduous in supporting State intervention as any of the chardonnay socialits, should they be exposed to the functioning of true free markets, though your concerns regarding my possible advocacy that we should shed our current wealth are more justified, because as the Global Economic crisis has demonstrated, much of our supposed "wealth" is in fact illusionary.

The world.... Troy... is suffering from us in a nutshell.

and yet the UN etc seems to think 10billion is probable....most economists see of similar mind..... in that they all seem to think  GDP and growth can just go on for ever....   If at least they had rationally looked at the issues of peak oil, peak minerals, peak water, AGW etc and dismissed them as of no consquence then OK....but actually time and time again they simply ignore them as impacting issue(s) when you miss out major parts of an equation the answer just doesnt stack up...IMHO.


I like the %67 the size of Germany and bigger than the UK analogy. However we do have these bloody great mountain ranges running through our country. What are the arable figures for comparison?

 For broadband I have a satellite dish. Works well, bit expensive paid for it myself and see it as part of the cost of living in the country why dont all the other farmers do the same?

"Farmers are the custodians of our land and water resources"

What a joke - has this man driven through the Catlins and Southland lately? What planet is he on?

We have enough dammed water, both spellings. His kind of agriculture is at it's peak now, totally oil-dependant. What we have to do, is use what we've got, more intelligently.

Ay, there's the rub.

"Farmers are the custodians of our land and water resources"

Like saying maori were good with the moa.....

"more intelligently" if this one's musings are anything to go by, fat chance....


PDK I thought we had already over done the leverage, so when he said this I just thought more of the same old growth rubbish. 

"We must better use and harvest our resources and we need to invest in and leverage productive assets, people and ideas."

And here's Colin James at Stuff on Water. Seems the govt is shaping up to provide a state-subsidised infrastructure for dairy farmers to use water...

Nick Smith has returned from a recent visit to China with a message. China has 20 per cent of the global population, 8 per cent of the arable land and 2 per cent of the water.

New Zealand is No 2 for water quality and No 3 in water per person after land-poor Iceland and Norway.

Add to those statistics a recent study by the Asia Society that suggests China is set to make US$1000 billion of direct investments in foreign productive assets this decade.

hina's interest is one element of New Zealand's growing attraction to foreigners as a fresh, safe, natural haven in a crowded, edgy and polluted world. That adds piquancy to two policy and trading imperatives.

One is to live up to the fresh, safe, natural image. One-third of our lakes and one-fifth of our rivers are in trouble, some seriously, and the Government is spending more than $300 million cleaning them up. A positive spinoff is the potential to export the cleanup techniques learned from dealing with the Rotorua lakes. China is interested.

The second is inefficient management. Even though water is abundant, the limits have been reached in some areas and underground aquifers are being plundered. Some regional councils, the water regulators, are tangled in the law and town-country standoffs.

Dr Smith is also likely to push on today with a cleanup fund and action on water storage. This is about using available river flows more effectively and preserving underground aquifers which, once plundered, take many years and in some cases decades, to replenish.

The Government's most likely solution - a Crown company like that for ultra-fast broadband fibre-laying, capitalised from the proceeds of selldowns of state-owned enterprises and operating in public-private partnerships to get projects under way and then sell them on to farmers.

Now where does China fit in that?


 Another political “chi-chi-mochi” squabble to win voters ahead of the election by the national party.

Cleaning up waterways – ??? -  when polluting waterways is still very much daily occurrence all over the country.


 Government studies of that project tell us that every 1000ha irrigated creates 27 jobs and injects $7.7 million into the local economy. With 30 potential projects covering around 1 million Ha up the eastern seaboard that’s about $7.5 billion extra revenue for the country each year, and 27,000 new jobs.

..and Ministers Carter/ Smith don't worry, "climate change" will not only create plenty of new jobs, but plenty of natural irrigation for our unbalanced  "Broom economy"

Why must they dress these taxpayers funded benefits to private landowners with all the cliches?

If they want taxpayers at large to pay for water storage infrastructure for Canterbury and Southland landowners, so they can convert the uneconomic arid land to lush green dairy pasture and subsequently on sell it to our Chinese mates for a tidy untaxed capital gain - why not just say it?

Nick Smith should have stayed there. It what they call a win win situation.

The government wants to make sure it controls every aspect of our lives.  The US Clean Water Act (1972) gives the state the power to determine land use through the availability of water.   Large corporate farming operations have been able to squeeze out market  gardeners through water use restrictions. 

Here in the Far North, the Far North District Council tapped the Sweetwater aquifer last year in a joint venture with large farming interests.  The past two summers have seen water restrictions placed on homeowners.  Those same restrictions do not apply to the corporates who pipe the water directly to their farms. 

Doug, you just have to know the right people  ;-) ;-)  or you on the outer  :-( :-(


If farmers were really custodians of our land and water why are 45% of all dairy farms non-compliant in their effluent management?

Kate hit the nail on the head. It's more tax payer funded benefits for private landowners wanting the benefits of untaxed capital gains without contributing to the full cost of destruction / production.

I like the idea of cleaning up our rivers and waterways. But this smells like privatisation effluent to capture a resource belonging to all the people.

I'm also all for supporting a good cause but as far as I'm concerned all the NZ taxpayer has come to represent is a lemon sucker and a doorstop for the finance and privatisation sector. I'm deeply suspicious of the motives having just heard a swath of pirmetime media reporting (aka lobby group press releases) on this issue. Can someone identify what bad bet we aren't liable for and why this would be a good one?

The promo shot of Conner is of course cool in that self aggrandising kind of way. Sort of solid and insightful and mysterious at the same time. It's full of asprirational narrative. Cows in Southern Tussock and a corner of a computer screen adrift in the depth of field add to the ambiance. Suggesting all kinds of cow / computer like algorithms going on in his head.

Energy equals Mass x Cows squared?

So Conner English (not a hint of a conflict of interest?) is outrageously trying to sell this idea of farmers being "custodians of our land and water resources" yet dairy farming has long history of polluting said land and water ways. We're getting to the stage where we can't actually afford milk and cheese so why exactly do we have to have Dariy Farmers? Oh that's right commodity prices and the trickle down effleunt effect.....

If it's so lucrative then why should we pay for their ETS and now water consortiums to privatise the water that belongs to all New Zealanders? Wheat is also getting good prices, why don't we plant that in Canterbury? Much more water efficient. Or are Fontera much too powerful now? Are Dairy Farmers our Wall Street? Too big too fail and so we make them bigger?

The agenda should be on healthy water ways for the benefit of all New Zealanders and to support sustainable and healthly food production. Not just a few profiteers.


The rich folk of the world would be thinking NZ has a good supply of what people need most.

I still reckon NZ is being set up for one big  retirement village for the rich.

NZ should be exporting more water,organic food,

Get the whole country growing anything that we can export.

Every person has to turn up,gangs,jail birds,people out of work.etc

Why can't we do seaweed farming,mussels,fish farming

Why can't we sell rabbit meat an possum meat which is farmed.

The worlds pets demand top quality food an the rich folk won't let there cats dogs go with out.

No country needs 500,000 people who can not even tie there shoe laces.

This group is breeding like there is no tomorrow.

Who is going to pay for all the statehouses,

There must be a way of turning this around for NZ



I lived in Korea about a decade ago. In late winter we'd get 6 weeks (at that time) of dust storms blowing down out of China. It was filthy dust - it'd make your eyes weep puss after about a week.

A client of mine worked for Hyundai Heavy and he told me 2 things about the dust: 1/ that it started in the late 1960's and used to last 2-3 days. and 2/ he said "China's running out of water. Big secret though. "


We need to be extremely thoughtful about our water usage. This is not the time for a short term view. Let have a CGT and decent charges on water use and pollution and then see how keen these cockies are.

"Water quality, which is a critical factor in the urban / rural relationship,  needs smart solutions, based on objective science informing practical, economic solutions, not political rhetoric. Significant money and effort is now going into this by our agricultural sector."

lol. Theres no such thing as objective science. Science like everything in human affairs is shaped by the participant's cognitive, political, and ideological bias. It just varies to what extent that it does.

"Water storage will enable “more fish and less drought” and build resilience into our economy and environment. "

I think you'd better educate yourself as to the lifecycle of New Zealand, many of which require waterways relatively free of obstacles so that they have access to the oceans in which to spawn, and their offspring are able to return to freshwater to complete their own lifecycle. Also many fish in highly sensitive coastline habitants need the fertility in the sediments and silt which travel down the waterways to the coast, but its journey are interrupted by massive water works. Learn from the lesson of the past. Massive dams in Egypt and Zaire destroyed the downstream fisheries on which many people depended in their respective countries.

"The Greeks, Romans and Egyptians built their civilisations on water. "

Yes and may the decline and fall provide a salutory lesson for you. Arguably inappropriate water management and farming contributed toward the collapse of their respective civilizations. A stark example is that of the Rhone Valley in France where Roman engineers with an urban fetish for straight lines designed irrigation works and drainage inappropriate for the environment that cut across landscape contours and natural watercourse where silt and sediment from erosion accumulated to an extent it was no longer worth investing energy in maintaining them. The Romans then had to abandon the farmland.

It’s clear from this map, from archeological surveys of nearly a thousand settlements in the region, and from analysis of aerial photographs that the Romans organized the Rhone valley—n particular the Tricastin—o grow agricultural products for export to the regional and Mediterranean economies. It’s also clear that the surveyors who laid out the grid of ditches and property boundaries had an urban fetish for straight lines and right angles not suited to the land’s natural features.Their drainage grid, in fact, cut directly across the natural flow of rivers and streams at an angle of forty-five degrees, so storms often washed out the ditches or filled them with dirt and rubble.48 Because the components of the system were highly interdependent, the failure of a single section of ditch could cascade to cause a far larger breakdown. 

The Upside of Down by Thomas Homer-Dixon

Parallels can be found in management of New Zealand's early agricultural landscapes, particularly in Hawkes Bay and Poverty Bay.



I agree that inappropriate water management led to the decline of  many civilsiations.  Storing water leads to salination of the soil in the long term. I have seen Australian wheat farming described as hydroponics, there is no good left in the soil. Rain is almost pure water, water from irrigation has all the minerals collected from the land  in it  Soil is destroyed by those salts.  The sea is salty because of the salts dissolved in water from land.  Evaporation results in clean water, which falls as rain and that is what crops (and grass) need to grow.  Investigate why the Fertile Crescent is now a desert.  The Aral Sea is another more contemporary example. 

More irrigation is short term gain for long term pain.

Why is it so crucial when we are just going to be selling off our farms anyway.

All those profits will soon be going overseas anyway, so not of much use to NZ.

Looks like Fed farmers are out there pusing it all the way for farmers to be able to hock the land off to the highest bidders.

Good stuff get Bill to pay for the dam so I can get cheap water on me farm and then flog the whole place to a foreigner and hey I get a big fat taxfree capital gain.....way to go....ponzi profits forever, on the taxpayer just can't beat it.

From the Environment Waikato website: 

Rural runoff and leaching

Rural runoff and leaching (non-point source discharges) are the main sources of the nutrient, nitrogen, in the lower Waikato River during the summer. Around 25 per cent of the non-point source nitrogen (see pie graph) is estimated to be natural. The rest probably comes from pasture – mostly from cow urine, which leaches into ground water and eventually flows into the river. Nitrogen promotes the growth of nuisance plants and algal blooms in the river, especially during summer.

Studies show that most of the bacteria (a health risk indicator) found in the lower Waikato River are from non-point source discharges. View a pictograph of e.coli bacteria levels in the river.

The three major point source discharges in this part of the river (Hamilton sewage, a meat-works and Ngaruawahia sewage) only generate five per cent of the total bacteria levels. Scientists believe the remaining bacteria in the river come from sources like rural and urban runoff. Only a small amount of all animal waste deposited in paddocks would be needed to account for the remaining bacteria.

Farming is probably the main non-point source of contaminants to the Waikato River, followed by cities and towns. Scientists estimate that the waste generated by the 3,000 dairy herds in the Waikato River catchment is equal to the waste from about five million people or nearly 50 cities the size of Hamilton. Increasing herd sizes are likely to result in higher amounts of nutrients and bacteria entering waterways through runoff and leaching.

The use of fertiliser and agrichemicals and spreading wastes onto land can also contaminate runoff, so these activities need to be carried out with care. 

As a taxpayer and ratepayer I should feel pleased to be subsidising this activity, as it is clearly not economic for farming businesses to pay for the irrigation infratsructure.  It is also totally unreasonable for farmers to meet the externality costs of the nutrient loadings on our environment. Apparently it is good for me to subsidise the production of milk and cheese which is too expensive for me to buy.  

May be something does not quite add up.