There’s a lot of awareness among the public about issues around water quality and also how we use water – this is changing the debate around water policy, with the wider public becoming more involved and this trend will continue in future, according to IrrigationNZ’s new chief executive Elizabeth Soal.
“A lot of the issues around water resources are complex and are long-term issues that are hard to distill into soundbites. The complexities tend to get lost in media coverage, which tends to simplify the issues,” says Elizabeth, who is set begin her new role in late- February.
“As people become more aware of the limitations on water availability there is a trend to adopt newer technology to improve water use efficiency and effectiveness. In the past decade we’ve seen significant improvements in efficiency.”
Elizabeth has taken over as CEO from Andrew Curtis, who stepped down from the role to pursue new consultancy ventures. She has a background in water management, law and policy and is currently director of strategy and policy at Waitaki Irrigators Collective. She also served on IrrigationNZ’s board from 2011-2016.
Elizabeth says future pressures and trends to affect irrigators and irrigation as a whole will include climate change.
“Climate change is a big issue. This will result in changes in rainfall with more high intensity rainfall events but longer periods of drought, which will mean we’ll be looking at significant changes in the levels of water bodies in the future.”
As a result, Elizabeth says New Zealand will be faced with increased flooding events, urban water supply shortages and more demand for irrigation in existing and new areas – but it’s not just an issue which affects irrigators.
“To resolve this we’re going to need to have some significant discussions around improving our infrastructure in urban and rural areas – that includes our natural infrastructure and our irrigation infrastructure in order to improve our resilience.
“I would also expect to see changes in the role of iwi in the governance and management of water. We don’t know yet what those changes will look like but they will also have an impact.”
Asked what she sees as priorities for the irrigation sector for the future – she points IrrigationNZ’s future strategy.
“IrrigationNZ’s future strategy identifies what I think are the key priorities for the future – to work on advocacy for the sector, improve our information base and have good training and standards in place which encourage ongoing improvement.
“The signals from the Government are that the ways irrigation will develop in future are not the same as how irrigation has developed in the past. So we need to think about what the irrigation sector will look like in 20 years’ time and start planning for that now.
“Advocacy is the most important activity from our strategy goals. This includes helping deliver the message that irrigation is key to community wellbeing.”
Elizabeth says irrigation has been demonstrated to be one of the most effective ways to improve community wellbeing – with studies showing irrigated areas have increased employment rates, more high-value jobs, and an increase in school enrollment numbers.
“This in turn leads to improved outcomes in a number of other areas, including health and social cohesion.”