Time ripe to get Waitaki scheme humming

Shovels will break ground next week as the roughly $45 million modernisation of the Kurow-Duntroon Irrigation scheme gets under way in the Waitaki.

Company chairman Geoff Keeling said despite all the recent rain, the bulk of the project would include the installation of about 70km of pipeline — and represented a "proactive" approach among the 60 shareholders from commercial farms to small landholdings.

"It’s not a great year to sell an irrigation scheme," Mr Keeling said yesterday.

"It’s about efficient use of resources. And this is the chance with Crown support to do it. It’s an opportunity that needs to be taken now."

When the Government began winding down public subsidies for large-scale irrigation projects last year, unlike Canterbury’s Hunter Downs Water and Hurunui Water Project, the North Otago company did not lose its funding because Crown Irrigation Investments had signed a construction funding term sheet with the scheme.

The project then found favour with the Waitaki District Council, which approved a loan of up to $3 million to the company in September, as councillors praised the environmental benefits of the modernisation. The scheme serves a mix of dairy, sheep and beef farmers, viticulture and other sectors and the upgrade includes replacing about 44km of existing ageing open canal with 37km of piped irrigation infrastructure. While the scheme modernisation included doubling the irrigated area from 2000ha to 4000ha, the command area — or total land area irrigated — would not change significantly, Mr Keeling said.

"The bulk of that ‘doubling’ is coming from existing irrigation, but changing their sources from the tributaries on to our scheme," Mr Keeling said.

The environmental gains were made as shareholders who had irrigated from the tributaries on the south bank of the Waitaki river, which had no minimum flow levels, moved on to the scheme.

"It’s also transferring those people from consents that have few rules around them to ours that have the complete modern suite of consent conditions," Mr Keeling told the Otago Daily Times in September.

Due to Environment Canterbury consent conditions, the company’s contractor, Monadelphous, would begin river crossings — work through river beds and margins — next week.

Pipe laying through properties would begin progressively through February and March, with an expected construction timeframe of about a year.


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