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Noho ora mai
By: Michelle Mehlhopt
To view this article as a pdf please click here.

Over the last ten years, the focus in Canterbury has been on getting water.  Now that water has been allocated, the focus is now moving to securing the reliability of that water and controlling the discharges associated with its use. This new focus is wider than just dairying, and includes the use of land for any primary production.

A Community Focus

Since the replacement of Environment Canterbury councillors with Commissioners, it has been full steam ahead in Canterbury to implement the vision and principles of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy.  There is an emphasis on a collaborative and integrated management approach, where communities work together towards the outcomes they want for their community.  This approach is a key theme in the Government’s recent discussion document on Freshwater reform.

In Canterbury, the community based approach is taking place through the Zone Committee process where representatives from stakeholders in the community facilitate community engagement in the development and on-going review of a Zone Implementation Programme (“ZIP”).  The ZIP addresses water management issues in the particular zone or region and is used by Environment Canterbury as the basis for their regional and sub-regional plans.

One of the biggest challenges for the Zone Committees and Environment Canterbury is managing the tension between increasing the irrigated land area in the region whilst managing the impacts on water quality, and ensuring that reliability of existing supply is maintained.  There is capacity for further development in Canterbury, but it will require existing users and new users to improve the way they use water.

Nutrient Management

Through the proposed Canterbury Land and Water Regional Plan and a number of sub-regional plans, changes are being proposed to rules around how land uses and nutrient discharges are managed.  The final form of the new regulatory framework is still being debated however, it is clear that there is a move towards farmers implementing best practice.

It is obviously not a one size fits all solution as each farm is different with its own farm-specific factors such as soil type and climate.  Therefore it is important that there is a wide range of tools available to farmers to reduce the impact of their farming activities on water quality.  Some of the tools currently available include:
  • Improved methods for applying effluent to land
  • Use of restricted grazing strategies and herd shelters
  • Riparian planting and protection
  • Wetlands
  • Improved nutrient balances in animal diets
  • Nitrification inhibitors
There is a lot of work being done in this area to come up with more efficient and effective tools to ensure that there are not only benefits for the environment, but also for farm profitability.  This includes developments around pasture types, wetlands (including those with woodchip filters) and animal nutrition.

Water Storage

As water has now been allocated in Canterbury, the efficiency and timing of the take and use of that water is fundamental if further irrigation is to be enabled and reliability of supply for existing irrigators is to be maintained. 

Water storage has become critically important as not only does it ensure reliability of supply, but it enables the efficient use of irrigation water as water is available at optimum times. Farmers and large-scale enterprises have recognised this and have taken steps to develop storage both at an individual farm and catchment wide scale. 

At the individual farm scale, resource consents have been granted to farmers to take water to storage.  If you are contemplating storage as an option for your farming operation, it is important to work with people who are experienced in this area and involve them early.  There are critical questions that need to be asked at an early stage in the process in order to determine the viability of your storage proposal. In our experience, an investment in the right people at the front end of the process can save you a lot of money further down the track.

There are also large scale storage schemes that will provide irrigation water to farmers.  For example, changes have recently been made to the Rakaia Water Conservation Order to allow TrustPower to use water that is currently diverted and stored in Lake Coleridge, for irrigation.  TrustPower will now be able to apply for resource consents to construct a canal from Lake Coleridge to join up with the Central Plains irrigation scheme. Water will be able to be held and released to match irrigation demand.


It is clear that the way in which water is managed in Canterbury has moved on from “first-in-first-served” to ensuring that the water that is available is used in the most efficient way possible.

Changes in farming practices will be required in order to keep up with this shift in approach to water management.  It is a matter of being informed of the options and tools available to you and choosing those that are the best fit for your operation, in order to ensure that there are benefits for both the environment and farm profitability. 

We are running free information sessions on this topic:

  • Leeston: 4 - 6pm, Monday 13 May:  Book now
  • Culverden: 4 - 6pm, Tuesday 14 May:  Book now
  • Rangiora: 4 - 6pm, Thursday 16 May:  Book now
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