Frogs will rain from the sky, a blight will cross the land, and white walkers will travel south of the wall. All this will come to pass. Oh and cabbages might cost more.
That’s the tenor of the response of Irrigation New Zealand to Labour’s water royalty plan.
It paints the picture of an organisation so deeply under siege that it’s willing to predict almost anything to maintain its social licence to irrigate, and by extension, enable further pollution of our rivers.
In response to Jacinda Ardern’s policy announcement, Andrew Curtis, CEO and King of the Irrigators opened up his doomsday book at a random page and started raining down weapons-grade Nostradamus on the unsuspecting population.
Let’s see, poor people, obese people, the unhealthy, average kiwis, families building a house, and all those born on a day ending in Y. Forgive me if I’ve left anyone off the list. Under his bleak prophecy they’ll all be forced into penury and ill-health by a scheme designed to regulate water take and penalise polluters.
Tell me if my maths is wrong but I think commercial users of water, apart from bottlers, will be charged something like one two thousandth of a cent per litre of water that they use. NIWA is reported as saying this will add between 0.3 and 0.5 of a cent to a litre of milk.
Others say it could go up two cents.
What will happen to the price of cabbage? It’ll go up 0.6 cents.
Don’t really care. Don’t like cabbage.
It’s a curious move by Irrigation NZ, because catastrophizing is the accusation it often hurls at Greenpeace. Specifically when the environmental group warns of the inevitable consequences of intensive dairy farming on waterways and irrigators intrinsic involvement in this.
So what’s the reason for all this disaster radio? This desperate departure from the language of modulated conservatism? The fact that King Curtis should describe the so-called water tax as “the biggest change in a generation” betrays his real concerns. It could spell the beginning of the end for his fiefdom – Big Irrigation.
That is to say the proliferation of massive irrigation schemes planned all over New Zealand underwritten by National’s crown irrigation fund. The money came from asset sales and it’s worth a hefty $480 million. The fund’s earmarked to propel an increase in agricultural production, with an emphasis on D for dairy. King Curtis represents all the companies making money from these schemes. Peering over the castle wall, things are looking a bit scary. Villagers are lighting torches.
Labour’s planning to pull the plug on the half a billion for state sponsored irrigation. Something Greenpeace has been pushing for. There’s a simple reason. These schemes enable the spread of intensive dairy. More cows, more nitrates, phosphorus and pathogens like E. coli in our rivers. Bad news. As the OECD says with intensive agriculture, we are reaching our environmental boundaries. We need to farm better, smarter, not bigger.
Based on Labour’s two cent/cubic metre charge, it’s estimated an average farmer will pay eight thousand dollars in royalties a year. Chickenfeed compared to the amount farmers have already been forking out to irrigation companies. On the same sized farm King Curtis is reported as saying an average farmer pays $78,000 annually for the privilege of irrigation. Nearly ten times as much. Even if they don’t use a drop of water.
Stories about irrigation companies like Central Plains Water, Hunter Downs and Hurunui threatening to take land from farmers using compulsory acquisition and tales of others pressurised into onerous contracts are adding to rural disquiet. Since 2011 Irrigation New Zealand says farmers have spent 1.7 billion dollars upgrading irrigation infrastructure. They’re already some of most indebted in world.
Things in the principality of pipes are sitting on a knife edge.
So King Curtis might be worried. Not unduly so. Forget the health of the townsfolk – this proposed water royalty might mean the difference between a green light and a red one in terms of pending irrigation schemes which are hanging in the balance.
Irrigation NZ’s original poster child, the Ruataniwha Dam in Hawke’s Bay is dead.
Opposition is mounting to the Central Plains Water scheme in Canterbury.
Large pre-election protests are planned. It could get interesting.
Let’s keep talking about water royalties, but let’s not confuse misplaced concern for poor obese average kiwis and their access to cabbages with the self serving proclamations of an embattled lobby group with barbarians at the door.