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Century-old irrigation dream moves closer

Century-old irrigation dream moves closer to reality

A 100-year dream of bringing irrigation to a large area of North Otago has taken a major step towards becoming a reality.

More than 80 North Otago farmers have declared their backing for a scheme by the North Otago Irrigation Company that aims to bring water to a 10,000-hectare area of land in the region.

The $57 million scheme is 25% underwritten by Meridian Energy but it required a financial commitment from farmers to cover 7500 hectares before it could come to fruition. Meridian is also supplying power, and the option of a transmission interconnection at the Waitaki power station.

North Otago Irrigation Company chairman Jock Webster says following the issue of a prospectus in September this year, the level of farmer purchase has now exceeded the 7500-hectare target to make the scheme a reality.

“It’s taken a huge amount of work to get the scheme this far, and it’s a great day for the whole region to have now reached the target that will see this dream become a reality.”

Once work currently being completed on scheme redesign and costings are updated to ensure the total price remains within budget, contracts can be awarded and construction started.

Work began on the scheme in 1990 with the initial focus on the Kakanui River as a source of water, but in 1998 attention turned to the Waitaki River, because of the greater certainty of water supply created by the hydro-electric structures on the river.

Mr Webster says many options have been studied since 1998, including pressurised and unpressurised variants.

Resource consent for an eight-cumec water take from the Waitaki River was granted in March 2003.

“Meridian Energy’s involvement really added to the knowledge required for building infrastructure on the scale we needed. While Meridian withdrew from active involvement after their decision not to continue with Project Aqua, their support and financial underwriting of the scheme has been vital to its success.”

Mr Webster also paid tribute to the Waitaki District Council which provided a $10 million loan for early infrastructure development.

The scheme, involving some 84 kilometres of pipeline, is the biggest infrastructure project currently under consideration for the South Island. The first part of a second 10,000-hectare stage is being designed into the core infrastructure for the first stage.

Mr Webster says the irrigation scheme holds the prospect of large economic gains for the region, as had occurred with the advent of irrigation in the Lower Waitaki and mid and south Canterbury regions.

Meridian Energy Chief Executive Keith Turner has welcomed the farmer support for the scheme.

“Meridian is delighted to have played a part in bringing irrigation to this region, and it demonstrates how we can work together with irrigators to ensure we make the very best use of one of this country’s most precious resources – water,” Dr Turner said.

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