As part of Southern Rural Life's Watershed
series, we look at the issues and challenges facing
irrigation companies in Otago. Yvonne O'Hara talks to Teviot
Irrigation Company chairman Ralph Nichol, of Roxburgh
Sheep and beef farmer Ralph Nichol, of Roxburgh East, is
chairman of the Teviot Irrigation Company Ltd. He said the
company, like others in the region, was facing increasing
regulatory pressure from central and regional governments.
Photo by Yvonne O'Hara.
The Teviot Irrigation Company Ltd (TIC) is allowed to
take irrigation water from the floor of Lake Onslow as that is
where its dam is, while Pioneer Generation is allowed to take
water from the top.
It is a good thing Pioneer Generation is happy to share.
Sheep and beef farmer and company chairman Ralph Nichol, of
Roxburgh East, said it had 100 shareholders, who were a mix
of farmers, orchardists and lifestyle block holders, and it
was permitted to take 52 heads of water from Lake Onslow to
Roxburgh East and Teviot, from September to April.
About 1400ha is irrigated and those taking water pay about
$100 per hectare annually.
Pioneer Generation Ltd operates the power generation system
while Teviot Irrigation Company is responsible for the
''We have a trust agreement with Pioneer Generation to share
the water and they look after the head works,'' Mr Nichol
''Our dam is underneath Lake Onslow.''
The original dam was built in 1888 by Roxburgh Amalgamated
Mining Co for mining and irrigation and it formed Lake
Onslow. By 1938 it was used for power generation as well as
irrigation. After several increases in height to meet a
greater electricity demand, the Otago Central Power Board
built a new dam in 1982, which increased lake area and
submerged the original structure.
Teviot farmers and shareholders bought the operation from the
Government in 1990 and turned it into a company. Like many
other irrigation companies and groups, the TIC has had its
share of challenges since its formation, including changes to
regulatory requirements and the associated costs, water
take-metering regulations, and dealing with the maintenance
The Otago Regional Council's (ORC) Plan Change 6A, which
intended to maintain or improve water quality in the region,
has meant lawyers' fees and time spent in meetings and making
''We have been working through it with the ORC through the
Otago Water Resources Users Group (OWRUG), which represents
the irrigation companies and groups in the region.
''Through OWRUG we have done quite a lot of work on 6A.''
OWRUG is funded by levies from the water groups, employed a
lawyer to attend the ORC meetings and work through the
submission process on their behalf.
''It is a struggle to cover costs and lawyers' fees,'' Mr
''We have also got a lot of outside costs coming into the
One relatively new regulatory requirement has been the
introduction of meters to measure water takes over 20 litres,
of which the company has about 20.
This is in addition to existing water meters already in the
The company uses dry gullies as a means to carry the water
and each time they take it out of the gully, it is considered
The metering system should be in place now, but they were
looking at reducing the number through amalgamation. He said
each meter, depending on its type, would cost between $6000
and $10,000 each.
Some meters automatically send information back to the
council using the cellphone system, but as there is little
coverage in some areas, a repeater station will have to be
The cessation of mining rights (which permits water takes) in
October 2021 is another major issue for the company.
''We have to renew our consent by then.
''If we haven't got something in place by then we are going
to miss out.''
He said the ORC was working with them.
In addition to regulatory requirements, the tightening of
company laws means book audit fees have doubled.
''That costs up to $10,000 a time,'' Mr Nichol said.
He said turning the company into a trust was a possibility.
''We have got a lot of blocks that have been turned into
''Each time we need to sort out the shareholders and up-date
the shareholders' register, so we have to go back to the
lawyers to do that, which is another cost.''
He said another big expense ahead of them was the company's
large pipe bridge, through which water flows from one side of
the Clutha to the other, which requires major and expensive
Pipe replacement is an ongoing expense.
''It costs about $400 to $500 a metre and we do a little bit
He said in the 10 years he had been chairman his job had
changed from looking after the irrigation company to being an
administrator, spending time in offices and talking to