A&F Bulletin - Funding for Flaxbourne Community Irrigation Scheme

Columns
Friday, April 22, 2016

As the former chair and founding member of the Southern Irrigation Scheme, and coming from an agricultural background, I have seen first-hand what irrigation can do for a community.

So I was extremely pleased that the recently announced $895,000 of Government funding for the Flaxbourne Community Irrigation Scheme has put this important project closer to the starting line.

There is no doubt that the Flaxbourne Community Irrigation Scheme will benefit Marlborough, its benefits estimated to be to the tune of over $100million for our economy per year.

The fact is that the rural sector is utterly dependent on water.

The water will most likely be used for wine grapes and arable crops, creating major potential to boost growth, jobs and exports.

Viticulture involves significant employment and investment of around $40,000 per hectare (much of which is spent locally), and once established has significantly higher annual turnover than the current dryland pasture uses.

This is an investment for the entire community. We have all seen the positive impact that water storage and irrigation has had on the Awatere community as a whole.

The Flaxbourne irrigation scheme, which proposes taking water from the Awatere River at peak times for storage and distribution to irrigate 2200 hectares, has been in the pipeline since January 2008.

The Crown funding announced by minister Nathan Guy comes out of the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Irrigation Acceleration Fund (IAF).

It covers half of the $1.7m needed for the Marlborough District Council to complete concept designs, finalise funding arrangements, and begin the detailed design phase for the storage dam.

This allows the Flaxbourne community to get the project over the start line, which is one of the biggest and most challenging hurdles in establishing an irrigation scheme.

When I look back over a number of South Island irrigation schemes, I see that without exception each scheme was deemed costly to start, yet in retrospect, when the benefits became clear, people considered it to be very cheap.

This goes right back to the first major river diversion and largest irrigation scheme, the Rangitata Diversion Race, completed in 1944 which cost £2 million pounds, huge money at the time, but was and still is, a thorough success that transformed the district.

There are so many moving parts to an irrigation scheme. There are multiple land owners, blocks of various sizes and different land uses. None of the land owners can pay for a scheme on their own, but as a group they can.

Crown Irrigation Investments is a bridging investor for regional water infrastructure development that acts on behalf of the Government.

By investing into schemes like the Flaxbourne project, it is able to provide for a more extensive scheme than landowners couldn’t initially fund alone. 

Allowing for overbuild for potential future users is a vital tactic, as it will prevent land from becoming a dry island and, in effect, a stranded asset.

Crown Irrigation Investments manages the investment on behalf of the Government, then exits once commercial viability has been reached.

For the Flaxbourne Community Irrigation Scheme, getting to this point in the development is a major achievement for the project’s voluntary board of directors and chair Kevin Loe.

I absolutely applaud the hard work and dedication they have shown for the betterment of their community. Thanks to people like them, the Flaxbourne district and wider Marlborough face and bright and prosperous future.