Northland water storage initiative reaches critical point

18 Sep 2019, 11:45 AM

A multimillion dollar project investigating potential Kaipara and Far North-based water storage and use options has reached an important pre-feasibility demand assessment and design stage.

Two initial studies – co-funded by the Northland Regional Council (NRC) and central government – have already identified about 6300 hectares of potential land some of which may be suitable for conversion to high value horticulture in Kaipara, another 1600ha south of Kaikohe and 1700ha to the west of Lake Omapere.

Initial indications are that with the availability of a secure water supply, horticulture and supporting industry could ultimately create hundreds of jobs and boost Northland’s economy by tens of millions annually. This potential was reinforced in July when the project received an $18.5 million boost from the Provincial Growth Fund.

At a local level, the regional council is leading the project in collaboration with the Far North and Kaipara District Councils and Northland Inc.

Northland Regional Council Chief Executive Malcolm Nicolson says Kumeu-based Williamson Water & Land Advisory Ltd (which has a small office in Kaikohe) has been contracted by NRC to undertake the pre-feasibility assessment.

The pre-feasibility stage – which has a budget of up to $3M – will see contact made with major landholders later this month to gather the information needed to answer some key questions, including what water could be used for given the local soil types, land profile and climate.

“Another important consideration is if water was available would people use it and what for? Key to this is what the ‘on farm costs’ might be, as while these would be relatively small for something like a market garden, they could run to hundreds of thousands of dollars per hectare for kiwifruit or avocado.”

Mr Nicolson says as well as assess water user/grower demand, the latest work will also look at where and how water could be collected, stored and distributed.

He says this work needs to fit with the principles for the funding agreement that promote local economic growth, but it needs to be done in an environmentally and culturally sensitive way.

“Northland has a lot of water but not always at the right time and a lot of it comes at once. This project is about collecting water and making it available when it’s needed.”

Importantly, the work will also rank the viability of the various areas involved so by the end of March 2020 officials should have a much better idea which, if any, of the areas could be progressed further.

Mr Nicolson says as well as the governance steering group, a separate advisory group has also been set up to provide advice on cultural, community, farming/growing and environmental matters.

“This group will also provide feedback on work as it develops through the project and guidance on engagement with the wider community and helping make sure the right people are being informed or involved.”

(Group members include iwi and hapu from Kaipara and Mid-North, and representatives from Lake Omapere, Department of Conservation, Fish and Game NZ, Horticulture NZ, Irrigation NZ, and Federated Farmers. Community and landowner representatives have also been selected and the Integrated Kaipara Harbour Management Group has been included.)

“While some of the PGF (Provincial Growth Fund) funding will be spent on the feasibility and commitment phases, the remainder is to be made available as a loan for construction should viable water storage and distribution networks be identified.”

Two men stand by a stream.

Farmer Terence Brocx, left, and regional council Water Storage Project contractor Andrew Carvell at Ohaeawai, one of the Far North areas being investigated for its water storage and use potential. Mr Brocx is a member of the Northland Water Storage and Use Advisory Group.