A&F Bulletin - Water, water, water

Monday, February 16, 2015

 few years ago a major motor vehicle company ran a campaign with the catch phrase, “Expect the Unexpected”.  Coming from an agricultural background, I know that farmers understand this and they take nothing for granted.  The one thing that is certain is uncertainty, particularly when it comes to Mother Nature and water.  

Regardless of your viewpoint on global warming or climate change, the fact is that the rural sector is utterly dependent on water and without it farming communities will die. 

Living in Marlborough, we know our summers are likely to be hot and dry and this summer is no exception. While we enjoy seeing our region consistently appearing near the top for sunshine hours, very few would question the desirability of having a dependable water supply.

The availability of water is not simply an issue for farmers.  It needs to be seen as an investment for the entire community. A reliable supply is necessary to grow GDP and provide employment and services for the benefit of everyone.

We have all seen the impact that water storage and irrigation has had on the Awatere.  Seddon and the surrounding catchment area have been transformed in recent years and there has been a flow on effect in the areas of viticulture and associated services.

The Flaxbourne Irrigation Project, the proposal to bring water from the lower reaches of the Awatere to be stored at Flaxbourne, is at the make or break point according to Kevin Loe the Chairman of the project.   Kevin sees it as having the potential to revitalise the Ward community in a similar way and to provide the next generation of farmers with a level of certainty not seen in the last 50 years. 

Quite apart from the obvious development of viticulture, this scheme could also lead to diversification into other crops like blackcurrants and seed crops and Kevin is optimistic that if the project goes ahead it will retain the next generation and revitalise the economy.  “In the 1980’s Ward School had a roll in excess of 100 students.  It is now approximately 30. We can see the school and the community growing again if this project comes to fruition,” says Kevin.   

There has already been a considerable amount of consultation with interested parties, including the Marlborough District Council, The Ministry of Primary Industries and Crown Irrigation Investments. Feedback to date has been largely positive.

The benefits I saw when I was Chair of the Southern Valleys’ Irrigation Scheme are why I am a keen supporter of the Amuri Plains Irrigation project as well as other initiatives.  The key things for the project to progress are: farmer buy-in, support from the wider community and environmental sustainability.