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Headline: Eugenie Sage questions the Minister for Primary Industries on irrigation and water quality

Eugenie Sage questions the Minister for Primary Industries on irrigation and water quality

Eugenie Sage MP on Thursday, May 5, 2016 – 10:01

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EUGENIE SAGE (Green) to the Minister for Primary Industries: How does increasing the amount of irrigated land by 400,000 hectares in the next 15 years, as the Ministry for Primary Industries is considering, fit with the ministry’s goal of “sustainable resource use”, when irrigation and agricultural intensification cause declining water quality?

Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister for Primary Industries): Because any discharge from agricultural production must be consented by a regional council within the framework of national freshwater management that was established by this Government. Ultimately, the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Government believe that growing the economy and protecting the environment are not mutually exclusive. Not only does water storage offer farmers, growers, and some towns a reliable source of water; it also has environmental benefits such as more consistent river flows in the summer, and reduced pressure on ground water sources.

Eugenie Sage: When he said yesterday that irrigation storage is good for the environment, does he believe that the toxic algal mats in the Ōpihi River, downstream of the Ōpoua dam, and in other Canterbury rivers, are good environmental outcomes?

Hon NATHAN GUY: What I did say in the House last night is that we do not collect and store enough water. We store only about 2 percent of the water that falls in this country. In particular, in respect of the example that the member is referring to, the Ōpuha scheme, what she may not realise is that about 18 months ago, when that area was in a very prolonged drought, Fish and Game was actually out there rescuing fish from nearby rivers and releasing them in the Ōpihi River, which is fed by this significant water storage project.

Eugenie Sage: What is the Minister’s strategy for dealing with more frequent droughts expected in future when irrigation storage reservoirs, such as the Ōpuha Dam, are already running dry?

Hon NATHAN GUY: What a stupid question that is.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The Minister will stand and withdraw that remark, and then he will start the answer correctly.

Hon NATHAN GUY: I stand and withdraw that remark.

Mr SPEAKER: Now can we have the answer.

Hon NATHAN GUY: I am unsure whether the member has recently read the comments of the Environment Canterbury deputy chair, David Caygill. He had a very interesting op-ed in the local paper down there last week. I think it is worthwhile mentioning it, because what Mr Caygill said was irrigation is part of our overall strategy. It builds resilience to droughts and to climate change. It is even gradually improving soil quality. It is relieving pressure on groundwater—for example, the Selwyn-Waihora catchment. I thought you actually could not put it better than Mr Caygill has put it.

Eugenie Sage: Does the fact that the Sustainable Farming Fund has a budget of only $8.3 million this year compared with the hundreds of millions of dollars of Government funding available to irrigators show that his Government’s priorities are to promote more irrigation and more water use rather than encouraging sustainable farming?

Hon NATHAN GUY: We encourage both. The Ministry for Primary Industry’s view and my view is that we want to grow and we want to protect. Actually, we are investing in research and development so that our farmers and growers have the tools to address some of the environmental factors that they are having to address. So, actually, the member is saying on the one hand that we should not be investing in research and development, and on the other hand that we should not have any irrigation. Actually, in my view, we can have irrigation and grow the economy and our exports and jobs in the regions, and we can do more in the environmental space as well. That is why we are investing in research and development projects.