Working together for healthy rivers and healthy food

01 Feb 2019


We can have both healthy rivers and healthy food.  All that is required is for us to work together as one country and face up to the fact that we are going to need to store water for use during dry periods.  In dry times, stored water can maintain river flow, provide water for plants to grow food, and for people to drink and use.  Water is a resource that we are not using sensibly.

On 29 January, 2019 it was a very hot day all around New Zealand.  On that one day, Auckland used 524 million litres of water.  That 524 million litres is equivalent to the amount of water 10,500 hectares of horticultural land would have used for one day of irrigation.  There are just 120,000 hectares of land growing fruit and vegetables in New Zealand and not all of that land is irrigated. Land is only irrigated when water is needed.  Whereas, urban supply is consumed on a daily basis.  This sharply puts into context that the greatest user of water is urban New Zealand.  As our population grows, we will need much more water for urban New Zealand.  So both urban and rural New Zealand have a common interest in making sure we undertake water storage for people and plants to live.  In addition, to meet climate change and progressively longer dry periods in our key food growing areas, adequate water storage will become an absolute must.

In 2011, the global population surpassed 7 billion, and the United Nations  (UN) predicts it will reach 9 billion by 2045. According to the UN Economist Intelligence Unit, our food system faces the pressure of producing about 70% more food for the growing population.  Water and suitable land are needed to grow that food.  This means that we are going to have to expand food production in New Zealand, not only to feed New Zealand, but also to help feed the world’s growing population.

Earlier this week, there was a news item about the impact of Brexit on Britain published in the online journal BMJ Open.  It stated that international researchers warn that there could be a further 12,400 cardiovascular deaths over the next decade in England, due to the UK's dependence on imported fruit and vegetables and the shortages of healthy food that are likely to occur post-Brexit.  This is a dire warning for New Zealand.  We first need to ensure that we can feed our own population, because the ability to import healthy food will be reduced in the future due to worldwide demand. The UK is heavily dependent on fruit and vegetable imports – 84% and 48%, respectively in 2017 – and costs for these are set to rise significantly after Brexit, the researchers said.

So how we have operated in the past will not feed New Zealand and the world in the future.  We need to radically change our thinking, and particularly our regional and central government planning, to provide water for people and plants so that we can all survive.

- Mike Chapman, CEO