Originally published in the New Zealand Herald

The Government’s Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) has given Northland the go-ahead to look at water storage to unlock land use potential. It will invest up to $18.5 million to help investigate and – if feasible – construct community-scale water storage and use options in Kaipara and the Mid-North.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones says this project is the largest PGF investment to date in water storage. The proposal was backed because of the “real opportunities that ensuring a more reliable water supply could bring to the region – up to $150m in increased horticulture earnings per year and up to 1150 jobs created.”

This is part of the $3b billion the PGF is investing over three years to ‘help build a regional economy that is sustainable, inclusive and productive’.

Northland regional councillor Justin Blaikie (Hokianga-Kaikohe) says recent studies that have been co-funded by the council and central government have already shown investing in water storage in the Mid-North and Kaipara could create hundreds of jobs and boost the economy by tens of millions of dollars a year.

Despite Northland’s relatively high rainfall, a lack of storage means it can’t be harvested for use in summer and during the droughts that have affected the region in recent years. Only a small portion of the region is irrigated – and most of it for horticulture – by two 1980s-built irrigation schemes at Kerikeri and Maungatapere.

“The region is vulnerable to droughts to floods, so better access to water will give landowners greater options to use their land, develop new markets and maintain and grow a skilled workforce,” says Jones.

National lobby group IrrigationNZ has applauded the funding.

Its chief executive Elizabeth Soal says if done the right way – with sound technical, environmental and stakeholder guidance – water storage and well-planned irrigation infrastructure can lead to very effective and efficient use of water for the benefit of all.

“Access to reliable water can make a vital contribution to local communities, economies and can significantly aid job creation,” says Soal.

It says the project is likely to deliver similar benefits as the development of water storage in Kerikeri in the 1980s.

An impact assessment found after 30 years of the Kerikeri scheme operating it had created 1300 additional jobs and was adding $106m per year to the Northland economy, with 6.5 per cent of all jobs in the Far North District due to the Kerikeri scheme’s operation.

“If these infrastructure projects result in secure water supply for communities, and outcomes are sympathetic to the environment and fair for all stakeholders, then they can lead the way in creating a national strategy to carefully use water, a precious resource, to help New Zealand’s regions flourish and develop resilience in the face of climate change,” says Soal.