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Clean up our rivers: petition with 68,000 signatures presented at Parliament

News from Greenpeace
Greenpeace today created a fifty metre long waterway* on the parliament lawn, as part of its campaign to save New Zealand rivers. Then at 1.15pm the environmental organisation handed the Government a massive petition signed by 68,313 people.

The Minister for the Environment David Parker and Associate Minister Eugenie Sage received the petition which calls for an end to state funding of big irrigation.

“Big irrigation schemes means more intensive dairy farms,” says Greenpeace campaigner, Gen Toop. “More cows equals more pollution in our rivers.”

Unlike its predecessor, the new Government has revealed it will not be supporting or funding irrigation schemes in future. This fulfills a pledge made by both Labour and the Greens in the run up to the election.

“This Government’s commitment to ditch funding and support for big irrigation is a huge win for our rivers and the people who have been working hard to protect them” says Toop.

However, Irrigation NZ, the irrigation industry’s lobby group, have publicly indicated that they are eyeing up the Government’s newly created $1billion regional development fund.

“Despite huge public opposition to these polluting schemes, the big irrigation lobby is already putting its hand back out to the new Government for taxpayer money from the billion dollar regional development fund.”

“Enough is enough. There are already too many cows in New Zealand.”

“This new Government must turn down the irrigation lobbyists and keep to it’s word ’about ditching funding and support for big irrigation altogether.”

There has been a groundswell of local campaigning and a series of peaceful protests against big irrigation schemes.

Ruataniwha dam, the most high profile project was mothballed earlier this year, after intense local opposition.

“Tens of thousands of New Zealanders have campaigned to save our rivers from big irrigation schemes. This kind of public momentum cannot be ignored and will continue if irrigation is funded through other means.”

Greenpeace, along with sixteen other organisations, is calling on the Government to redirect irrigation funds towards investment in a nationwide transition from intensive dairying to more diverse, regenerative farming models.

“The only way to enjoy clean rivers and pure drinking water is to have fewer cows and a nationwide move to regenerative farming. We hope the new Government will look to the future and invest in this environmentally sound transition.”

*NB It is a symbolic river made of material rather than an actual river with water.

News from IrrigationNZ
IrrigationNZ says that the petition presented by Greenpeace at Parliament today misrepresents how irrigation has been funded and used and ignores the wide range of benefits to New Zealand from irrigation, as well as the efforts being made to address environmental issues.

“Greenpeace has presented a petition seeking to stop government funding of irrigation schemes. The petition is misleading as the majority of money provided to irrigation schemes by Crown Irrigation Investments has been in the form of loans which have to be paid back with interest,” says Andrew Curtis IrrigationNZ Chief Executive.

“The loan funding supports new irrigation schemes but also supports work to modernise existing irrigation schemes so they can use water more efficiently, something many people would support if they knew about it.”

Mr Curtis says the petition’s focus on irrigation being used by dairy farms does not fairly represent how irrigation is used in New Zealand. Over half of New Zealand’s irrigated land is not used for dairy farming but to grow crops, for sheep and pasture grazing, and for fruit, vegetable and wine production. Most dairy farms in New Zealand do not use irrigation.

“Modern irrigation schemes can also have a range of environmental benefits,” says Mr Curtis.

Trials by the Foundation for Arable Research have found that arable farms with irrigation leached less nitrogen than the equivalent dryland farms. On irrigated farms nutrients can be targeted to provide reliable plant growth which is not limited by soil moisture. Enhanced plant growth allows more nutrients to be used by plants, reducing the risk of leaching. Irrigation also promotes consistent ground cover (either crops or pasture) through the summer growing season, which reduces the risk of wind erosion of soil and surface sediment runoff. Sediment is a significant contaminant in waterways.

Irrigation schemes can be designed to protect river health – for example water from the Opuha Dam is used to supplement river flows to keep the river flowing during drought years and is released to mimic ‘natural freshes’ that flush-out algal growth in the Opuha River.

“The recent report on domestic vegetable production by HortNZ highlights that New Zealand needs to focus on ensuring there is a secure food supply for the future. Irrigation helps us feed our growing population, keeps food more affordable and allows a wider variety of local food to be grown throughout the year,” Mr Curtis adds.

“Irrigation will become even more important in the future to help reduce food shortages or price spikes due to droughts occurring more often as a result of climate change.”

Many irrigation schemes supply multi-purpose infrastructure with Oamaru, Timaru and Kerikeri all sourcing their town drinking water supply from irrigation infrastructure.

“Irrigation is vitally important to New Zealand’s economy and it contributed an estimated $5.4 billion to NZ’s GDP in 2016-17. For every 1,000 hectares of irrigation added, several New Zealand studies have found at least 50 new jobs are created. For high value horticulture, this increases to over 500 new jobs,” Mr Curtis says.

“New Zealand is a world leader in efficient, safe food production and irrigation plays an important role in this as well as in creating prosperous communities. Farmers and growers are now taking a wide range of actions on farms like fencing off waterways, riparian planting and developing farm environment plans which are already resulting in improvements to rivers and will see further benefits in the future,” says Mr Curtis.

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