Almost 70,000 people have signed a petition calling for the government not to back away from its commitment to reduce mass irrigation.
While the new Labour-led government has decided to scrap funding for new irrigation schemes, concern remains that some schemes will still proceed under funding from the Regional Development Fund.
The petition was presented by Greenpeace to Environment Minister David Parker and Associate Minister Eugenie Sage outside Parliament this afternoon.
Mr Parker said the government would be honouring existing irrigation schemes started under the previous National-led government but would not fund any new ones.
“We should not be subsidising irrigation schemes which we know lead to increased intensity of land use which adds to the problem.”
He said there could be a “perfect outcome” for farmers and for water-quality, if New Zealand did not rely so heavily on dairy exports.
“There is an incredible opportunity for New Zealand to move towards higher-value land uses, other than livestock, in parts of New Zealand.”
He added that greater use of technology could foster diversification. “If we can use robotics and sensor technology, our wonderful soil and our growing techniques to bring forward more profitable land uses that have a lower environmental impact we will get richer as a country, the same time we get cleaner.”
Greenpeace spokesperson Genevieve Toop said they had collected signatures for almost a year and there was strong public support for reducing big-irrigation.
“New Zealand is in the middle of a freshwater crisis, there are already too many cows and big irrigation schemes drive more intensive dairy conversions, which just mean more cows and our rivers just can’t cope with that anymore.”
Irrigation New Zealand chief executive Andrew Curtis said it was too simplistic to say mass-irrigation caused water pollution.
He added that cutting funding for new irrigation systems was not the answer.
“We’re already seeing quite high growth in the horticulture area at the moment, and that’s where the future is heading to be honest, is New Zealand producing high value viticultural and horticultural-type products and that’s got to be underpinned by irrigation.”
Mr Curtis said irrigation was vital for economic growth in many of the regions.
“There’s a number of regional economic growth strategies that have been done in places like the Bay of Plenty and Northland, which have very much identified how key, water infrastructure is to their future.”
He was unsure whether new irrigation schemes could be applied for under the Regional Development Fund.
“That’s the conversation we’d like to have with this incoming government.”