14 Mar 2016

Tourism body distances itself from irrigation comments

4:56 pm on 14 March 2016

The Tourism Industry Association (NZTIA) is distancing itself from calls by a smaller tourism body for a five-year ban on new irrigation projects.

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Photo: 123rf.com

The Tourism Export Council is calling for a five-year moratorium on new irrigation schemes, arguing that tourism relies on the country's clean, green image and irrigation is leading to more intensive farming and more pollution.

But NZTIA chief executive Chris Roberts said the Tourism Export Council did not represent the wider tourism industry.

"The export council represents inbound tour operators and they have chosen to take this strong stance, we don't think that's helpful.

"We want to work with others, including dairy and the agricultural sector, for the benefit of New Zealand and we don't want to get into any kind of [slinging] match and any suggestion that it's tourism or dairy."

Mr Roberts said both tourism and dairy were incredibly important to New Zealand's future and the two sectors needed to work alongside each other, not against each other.

"Singling anyone out and saying that they are our biggest environmental concern is not helpful, we should all look after our environment and recognising that most New Zealanders are keen to do so."

Last week the government announced $1.6 million in funding for three schemes under the Irrigation Acceleration Fund.

But Labour's Environment spokesperson David Parker said the government should not be subsidising them.

"We have to take a breath in New Zealand and get water quality under control, and also get our head around the landscape effects of some of these irrigation schemes.

"More irrigation means more intensive farming systems, often including centre pivots, big irrigation structures, more cows per hectare, more livestock effluent and fertiliser finding their way into waterways - and these all can cause both water quality degradation and a change in the landscape."

Green Party's environment spokesperson Eugenie Sage said it was the wrong time for the government to be backing the intensification of dairy farming.

"The future of high cost, intensive dairy farming is about as lucrative as investing in coal, so good money shouldn't be thrown after bad with these massive public subsidies for irrigation."

Federated Farmers said irrigation allowed farmers and crop-growers to more effectively manage their water use and nutrient loads on the land.

Its environment spokesperson Chris Allen said irrigation dams could also provide recreational benefits, which was good for tourism.

"Look at Lake Opuha - it's built primarily as storage for farm irrigation, also for the water supply for Timaru, but the boating, the water-skiing, the recreation that happens on Lake Opuha is absolutely huge."

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