Liquid gold – it’s time for a community-wide conversation

By Federated Farmers Marlborough provincial president Phillip Neal

Liquid gold, or water as it is known in Marlborough, is our lifeblood. 
The Marlborough Environment Plan hearings have just finished after 15 months. Water allocation was the last issue raised but I think the most important. This included water allocation from all our rivers, especially our biggest river and aquifer, the Wairau. 
This year the water for irrigation has been shut off not only for the Southern Valley Irrigation Scheme but also to the Wairau Valley farmers and grape growers. Without water storage, cow will be dried off, process crops as well as some vineyards not harvested. (98% of the Wairau river water flows out to sea in an average year).
We have taken for granted that the Wairau river water will always be available. It is time once again, as the wider Marlborough community, to discuss water storage. 
An example of this is the Southern Valley irrigation users were given the opportunity when the scheme was set up to include storage but they declined. Conversely Awatere grape growers knew they needed storage if their grapes were to succeed. They are now benefiting from their storage ponds in an extremely dry year.
I think not only is private storage needed but a community storage pond/lake to feed into the Wairau is now imperative for our region. This will not only keep it in a healthy state with higher water levels but it will also be an insurance for irrigators. It could also be used in conjunction with Trust Power as a surge pond/lake to generate and even out the flow rates of the river. Fire fighters would have a source of water for firefighting as well as people enjoying it recreationally.  
So, before we forget this unusually dry year let’s have a hui. We should include all water users urban and rural, recreational users, the fire service, MDC and central government representatives.
We must remember we are only a water short province when we are short of water storage.