When Waitaki Irrigators Collective policy manager Elizabeth
Soal headed to Canada recently, she wanted to learn more
about how water issues were managed, given that nation's
similarities with New Zealand.
There were similar legal systems, similar amounts of water
per capita and challenges similar to those in New Zealand,
including rising pressure around intensification and
urbanisation putting pressure on the resource.
While she did not return with all the answers she was looking
for, which she acknowledged was to be expected - ''water
issues are complex and hard to solve, nowhere in the world
has solved it perfectly'' - she described it as an
Ms Soal, who is also a director of Irrigation New Zealand,
spent four weeks studying water management and beneficial
farming practices, after receiving a travel grant from the
Winston Churchill Memorial Trust as a 2014 Churchill Fellow.
Part of the experience taught her that the best New Zealand
could do was spend as much time looking at other examples and
how things were done differently, in terms of what was done
both well and not so well, and trying to apply those lessons
to New Zealand's ''own unique set of circumstances''.
Ms Soal travelled from the east coast of Canada to the west,
meeting farmers, lobbyists, Government officials,
non-Government organisations and researchers, hearing ''all
She also visited a nuclear power plant, spent time at the New
Zealand High Commission and experienced the tail-end of
Hurricane Arthur while doing farm visits on Prince Edward
Island, where there was ''corrugated iron flying through the
People she met also wanted to hear about the New Zealand
experience and what was done here. She now had a ''huge
list'' of contacts she could call on.
While there were similarities between the two countries,
there were things that were done differently, including
research, particularly around farming practices and water
quality, and putting that into policy.
The dairy industry differed from New Zealand's. Herds were
housed indoors, at an average size of 150 cows.
A lot of water quality issues, as related to farming, were
around fertiliser use and phosphorus through run-off, rather
than the issue of cows through nitrate intensification. There
were issues with pesticides.
There was not the cutting-edge technology transfer in
irrigation that there was in New Zealand. Variable-rate
irrigation was ''very, very new'' there.
The Canadians were trying very hard to put quite an emphasis
on assessing new technology and what were deemed beneficial
farm management practices, she said.
Each province managed water differently and she got to see
those differences. On Prince Edward Island, in the east,
there were major issues around irrigation, even though it was
not the main water user, and it was moving in the direction
of becoming highly regulated. In contrast, there was very
little water regulation in British Columbia.
Another difference she noted was that ''pretty much
everywhere'' she went, there was recognition of the benefits
that communities derived from the primary sector.
Millions of dollars was being invested in the likes of
fencing, buffer strips and wetlands and communities
recognised the need to do those sorts of things. They had a
role in supporting farmers to ''do the right thing and make
changes'', Ms Soal said.
It was ''pretty clear right across the country'' a carrot
approach, not stick approach, was favoured for changing
Ms Soal now has six months to produce a formal report on the
trip and also intends making presentations.