Water Sensitive Design – the rural dimension

There is no ‘R’ in WSUD…and perhaps there should be. In light of NZ’s growth in dairy and wine-making, amongst other – potentially – thirsty industries with rural significance, should we not place as great an emphasis on water sensitive – rural – design, as our Australian neighbours are placing on urban?

I have been researching aspects of decision-making over the Hurunui water project in Northern Canterbury.

Crossing the Hurunui River

The Hurunui is Canterbury’s sixth largest river by volume. A trust was formed to look at options for water use in the district in 2002, with a proposal for two dams emerging. Dams feature largely on the NZ landscape. Our dependency on renewable hydro-electricity is one reason we dam our rivers, while rising investment in dairy, growing water demand for urban areas, and serving horticulture and sheep farming are others.

The Hurunui project could have been just another dam project given the go ahead, because it seemed logical to store water for later release to irrigate previously non-irrigated land. But, awareness of some of the more undesirable effects of dams perplexed first the Regional Councillors, and now it seems, the (government appointed) Commissioners. Potential adverse effects on the brown trout, on salmon growth, and unknown effects on the black-fronted tern and other threatened bird species, are specific concerns for the Hurunui. Side-effects of intensive irrigation are a significant part of the equation – in 2007 on the ‘dirty rivers’ league-table, a south branch of the Hurunui rated a poor 55, where 76 is worst. A critical question…will a dam (or other proposed water storage option) deliver more profit to the region than no dam?

So, we have a moratorium – no increased water take from the Hurunui and its tributaries until next October (2011). A good decision, but we have to make it work for all affected parties – and there are many. Somehow, the Commissioners must pull all the relevant information together in a coherent way and make it available to everyone. Then we must get working on thinking together about water sensitive – rural – design and how the Hurunui water project fits with this vision. Google the Starborough Flaxbourne soil conservation project for a brilliant and successful example of WS-R-D (WSURD?) – apologies for coining another acronym – there are already so many. Among a wealth of information about the Starborough Flaxbourne project on the net, technical aspects of dryland farming with lucern as an alternative to ryegrass and white clover, are presented in Seasonal priorities for successful grazing management of lucern by Prof. Derrick Moot, Lincoln University with Fraser and Doug Avery, Bonaveree Farm (Landcare, 2008): http://www.landcare.org.nz/user-content/917-chapter3__beyond-reasonable-drought.pdf

Scarborough Flaxbourne Soil Conservation Project

Dryland farm – Eastern Marlborough

Fourteen months may give everyone who counts in the Hurunui decision, a chance to share and review key understandings, to expose invalid assumptions, and to uncover the most significant constraints on both sides of the decision – to dam or not to dam, to irrigate or not to irrigate. Commissioners must implement a logical decision making process that takes account of diverse perspectives and key scientific understandings. If this cannot be done by October, the moratorium should extend, with the Commissioners held accountable.

Let’s carefully weigh up the risks and rewards of this twin dam project and analyse the reasons for it being proposed. Let’s see the bigger picture, drawing all the best from WSD. There is sense in capturing thousands of cubic meters of water when the rains fall in torrents, to later disperse in a targeted way when torrents reduce to insignificant showers. On the other hand, NZ can farm drylands, without intensive irrigation, and still make money. In Eastern Marlborough, Kevin Loe and Doug Avery (of the Starborough Flaxbourne project) are farming drylands in water sensitive fashion, producing luscious lambs and turning healthy profits, after adapting their farming practice to grow lucern, among other challenges and changes.


Resilient lucerne – after flood

The moratorium on water take is a road less travelled for New Zealanders. Let’s make best use of the breathing space and put ‘RURAL’ into WSUD.

About robynmmoore

Anything to do with people and the environment and I'm interested! I have been writing and commenting about education, the environment and other community-related matters since 2006. I'm a compulsive researcher. In 2009, I finished a thesis on Kapiti's water issues and am still researching outcomes there. This website and the work I do as a trustee for the Whitireia Foundation are part of my aspiration to contribute to 'shaping more sustainable communities'...also the title of my thesis. Look it up - it's free at www.j.co.nz.
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2 Responses to Water Sensitive Design – the rural dimension

  1. Tessa says:

    totally agree!

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