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'It's a sad place to be' - South Island farmers reeling after large irrigation projects scrapped

Several South Island farming townships are reeling after the government's announcement to pull the plug on funding several large irrigation projects.

Many say the towns need future-proofing with drought an ongoing threat, but environmentalists say it's a win for water.

The 1970's saw two major crown-funded irrigation schemes spring up in North Canterbury's Amuri Basin.

Former farmer turned District Councillor Dick Davidson says it transformed the place from fried to fertile.

"My wife and i came here in 76. We're standing in Culverden, there were dust storms rolled across here we looked out and Liz said - how are we going to feed our sheep. This district is now green," Davidson says.

But for other desperate parts of the drought plagued region, that same investment's needed now, he says.

"We've got many rural communities that are not dying but dwindling. Its a sad place to be."

But the district's learned this week the government's set to pull its support from the Hurunui water project as well as those in Flaxbourne, Marlborough, and Hunter Downs near Timaru.

Irrigation New Zealand's Andrew Curtis says rural communities will miss out on more than one billion dollars a year.  

Forest and Bird however says it's a big win.

"These large scale irrigation schemes they lead to intensive agriculture which leads to more pollution, and so subsidising irrigation is like subsiding pollution," Forest and Bird Freshwater Advocate Annabeth Cohen says.

The Government says large irrigation schemes should be economically viable on their own.. without the need for taxpayer dollars.

But it will still consider chipping in for smaller scale, environmentally sustainable projects through its Provincial Growth Fund.

The Government has pulled the plug on several irrigation projects, but farmers say they are now at increased risk from drought. Source: 1 NEWS