Wednesday, 21 February 2018 13:02

Water storage’s answer to climate change

Written by  Andrew Curtis, chief executive of IrrigationNZ
Andrew Curtis. Andrew Curtis.

The importance of water storage in helping provide a reliable supply of water for urban communities, as well as for food and energy production in a changing climate, needs to be recognised.

We are seeing the effects of poor future planning for the effects of climate change on water infrastructure overseas, with Cape Town expected to soon run out of water. By ratifying the Paris Agreement in 2016, New Zealand confirmed it will plan for and take action to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Developing more water storage to supply towns, rural communities and for food and energy production is important to protect the future wellbeing of Kiwis.

A new draft government report ‘Adapting to Climate Change in New Zealand, highlights that droughts are expected to occur more frequently and to be more severe, along with more intense rainfall and flood events.

January 2018 was the hottest month ever recorded in NZ.  And in 2017 shortages or surpluses of water caused huge problems -- severe flooding in several regions during autumn and winter, followed by droughts in spring and summer.

Many regions went for several weeks with minimal rainfall this summer. Where water storage was available it played an important role in ensuring locally grown produce was still available in supermarkets. But a lot of work still needs doing to improve the resilience of our communities by improving our water storage.

The 2012–2013 drought, which affected the entire North Island and the West Coast, is another example of the impact climate change could have on NZ’s economy and communities.  It was one of the most severe experienced in these areas in at least 40 years. The economic impact of the drought was estimated to be a minimum of $1.5 billion by Treasury. 

According to NIWA, NZ now gets an average of 550 billion cubic metres of rain each year, of which 80% flows out to sea, supporting river ecosystems along the way. Around 2% is used for irrigation, urban and industrial use, and the rest evaporates.

Maintaining adequate river flows and river ecosystems is important for our future, and we must look at options to store water. Overseas water storage projects have combined flood protection works with water storage for urban and rural use. 

Projects to recharge underground water supplies through wetlands which provide a habitat for wildlife have also been completed as a low-cost way of providing water when needed in Europe and America.  

In Timaru, Oamaru and Kerikeri, irrigation schemes also provide town drinking water and farmers’ stock water. Modern irrigation schemes can be designed to allow river flows to be supplemented in times of low flows.

IrrigationNZ is pleased that the government has indicated it will honour existing Crown Irrigation Investments Ltd commitments to support irrigation scheme modernisation and development.

By 2050, our population is expected to reach 6 million. We’ll need to feed more people from the same land area, and supply water and power to new homes and businesses. 

Water is critical to our nation’s wellbeing. We must continue planning today to ensure we can meet NZ’s needs in the future. 

• Andrew Curtis is chief executive of IrrigationNZ 

 
 
 

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