Board Report

by Chris Allen, water spokesperson

Fellow Feds board member Andrew Hoggard and I have just returned from a five day study tour to Australia hosted by Mercury Energy. The power company assembled a diverse group of 36 representing groups with interests in the Waikato River Catchment, including power generators, iwi, Niwa, the Ministry of Environment, Fonterra and Waikato Regional Council.

The purpose of tour was to find out about the Murray Darling River water management plan and how water trading is working. The Murray Darling is a vast basin the size of France and Spain combined. The river system traverses four states in a country where water is owned by the states.

We heard about the origins and struggles of state Governments competing for a share in the water resource, how complex it is to operate a system that is so modified by man that it can take three months for water to travel its length, all while trying to deliver water to its customers for abstraction and environmental requirements.

The whole system’s modernisation, including on farm investment by the Federal government, is about $13 billion. The efficiency savings being generated are enabling a return of water back to the environment of some 30%.

In NZ water for irrigation is attached to the land. It is not owned and no one pays for water. We only pay for infrastructure, delivery etc and require consents to be renewed every few years.

In Aussie water is separated from the land and within certain rules can be freely traded (you can buy water to release down a river if you so desire). No one pays for water in Australia either. There is a water charge for management and maintenance of the system.

They invested mega billions, and still had water shortages, so wanted water trading. Thus the need for disconnecting the land from the water. The intention was to get water to flow to its highest value use while reducing the impact by efficiency gains on and off farm.

I am yet to be convinced that water is flowing as intended, as much of it moving to high value crops that don't require the same size communities to support the farms.

Two key points we noted.
  1. When the government paid for upgrading half the on-farm infrastructure, the farmers saw the benefits, couldn't wait and invested in doing the rest.
  2. Policy that doesn't have good solid science behind it will fail.