$18.5 million for water storage options from PGF welcomed

9 Apr 2019, 8:26 AM

Potential Kaipara and Far North-based water storage and use options – the latest to secure $18.5 million Provincial Growth Funding – could ultimately create hundreds of jobs and boost Northland’s economy by tens of millions annually, local councillors say.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones announced the funding recently in the Hokianga to the delight of Northland Regional Councillors Justin Blaikie (Hokianga-Kaikohe) and Penny Smart (Kaipara).

“This commitment comes after the completion of two initial studies, co-funded by council and central government, which have scoped up the options and means these storage projects are just that much closer to becoming a reality,” Cr Smart says.

“The most recent of the scoping studies showed investing in water storage and use option projects in the mid-North and Kaipara could potentially create hundreds of jobs and boost the regional economy by tens of millions annually,” Cr Blaikie adds.

However, both councillors are at pains to point out it could still be some years before any physical work begins.

“There’s a vast amount of work still to be done before any construction can begin,” Cr Smart says.  “This includes fuller analysis of water supply and storage options, assessment of potential water user demand, detailed consideration of environmental impacts, and of course, in-depth financial modelling.”

Councillor Blaikie says some of the PGF (Provincial Growth Fund) funding will to spent to undertake this analysis, with the remainder made available as a loan for construction should viable water storage and distribution networks be identified.    

He says while the Crown’s funding agreement will be with the council, the council will in turn work with partners – including tangata whenua and a broad range of stakeholders – to deliver the associated outputs.

“The regional council will lead the project in collaboration with the Far North and Kaipara District Councils; another excellent example of the region’s local government working together for the benefits of all Northlanders,” the two councillors say.

Councillor Smart says despite relatively high average annual rainfall overall, a lack of suitable storage means much of this water can’t be harvested for use at other times, including summer and during droughts; the latter repeatedly plaguing parts of the region in recent years.

Keen to see the region’s water used more sustainably, authorities have been investigating the potential of new water storage and use schemes, which would not only ease future drought impacts, but potentially deliver economic and environmental benefits.

Assessing the environmental and ecological impacts of any new water storage facility and the associated adjustment in land use – including changes in greenhouse gases, nutrients and sediment – is a vital part of the further investigative work.  

Currently only a tiny portion of the region (roughly just 8500 hectares) is irrigated, most of it for horticulture, and the region is home to just two 1980s-built irrigation schemes; one near Kerikeri and the other at Maungatapere, near Whangarei.

Councillor Blaikie says like the existing Kerikeri scheme, any new water storage and use ventures would have a predominantly horticultural focus allowing for increased planting. rather than enabling the conversion of land to dairy.

Previous studies have indicated about 6300ha of the Kaipara – much of it on the Pouto Peninsula – and another about 1600ha south of Kaikohe could potentially be irrigated as part of the initiative, however, associated construction costs would collectively run into tens of millions.

While growers couldn’t afford to build these schemes alone, given the likely flow-on economic, environmental and other benefits they would offer the wider community, there was a potential case for wider investment, including by both central and local government.

“This was part of the case made to the government by Northland when applying for PGF funding,” Cr Smart says.

However, even with the latest PGF funding, it could still take several more years and considerable design and engineering work before physical construction of any irrigation schemes could begin.