To be leaders in Water Management providing Reliable, Economic and Sustainable Supply
In recent history there have been other initiatives to set up an irrigation scheme.
In the Mid 1970`s, as usual, following a severe drought, a group from the Oxford Federated farmers met with the Catchment Board and the Oxford District Council, to discuss irrigation. Barry Erickson, representing Federated Farmers remembers the importance placed on the Waimakariri River users, fisherman and pleasure craft, as opposed to farming. Two meetings were held but nothing further was achieved at this time.
In 1983, David Inkson and Gavin Inch were instrumental in planning for 12,000 hectares to be irrigated from an intake under the Gorge Bridge. This scheme was to cover the land between the Waimakariri and the Eyre Rivers and would have taken in all the land still not watered above the present scheme. Water Rights were applied for and Doug Hood Ltd (WIL’s eventual main contractor) actually submitted tentative plans. However, the Government of the time pulled out of centrally funded schemes before a start was made and nothing was achieved. Gavin Inch went on to become a driving force behind today’s scheme as a member of the later formed Waimakariri Irrigation Committee.
A common interesting feature of both of these earlier initiatives was that the existing water race system was never considered as part of the scheme. In fact, it would have been a liability with many additional culverts, etc. being required. What appears to be an obvious symbiotic relationship now was only an apparent option following the coming together of the Councils and the Catchment Board under the umbrella of the Waimakariri District Council.
In the summer of 1988-89 yet another drought struck the Waimakariri – Ashley Plains area. This drought was the first major dry spell since the advent of the Ashley River Management Plan and the North Canterbury Catchment Board controls. These controls had set abstraction limits from rivers and groundwater during dry spells. They were applied for the first time during the 1988/1989 drought and farmers found that they were, for the first time ever, prohibited from taking water from surface streams, such as the Ashley and Cust, and from ground wells in some areas, even though water was visibly available for the taking.
Irrigators in the area realised for the first time the true impact of competing uses for water and the situation became so critical, the Rangiora District Council investigated the concept of diverting water from the water races into the Cust River in an attempt to supplement surface water flows.
While this supplementation was limited due to the small size of the stock water races, it sparked the idea of the water race being a solid base for the development of an irrigation scheme.
It was ironic that the very dry north-west winds that blew for several months, accentuating drought conditions, melted snow on its way across the mountains and resulted in the Waimakariri River being in a state of almost permanent flood during the entire time of the drought.
It was estimated by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries that the 1988-89 drought cost the Canterbury region $50 million in lost agricultural production.
In 1988 the Rangiora and the Oxford County Councils met to discuss ideas as to what might be done to ameliorate the effects of severe drought. In early 1989, after the drought had broken, the late Mayor of the Rangiora District Council, Mr. Trevor Inch, called a public meeting to discuss issues raised by the drought. This meeting strongly endorsed the need for further investigation into the potential for the stock water race system to be upgraded to provide at least some irrigation capacity. A committee was elected from the floor to oversee this investigation.
The committee members were Trevor Inch (Chairman) Gavin Inch, Robert Spark, Roscoe Taggart, Craig McIntosh, Neil Price, Trevor Minchington, Duncan Lundy and Gareth James (Waimakariri District Council, Manager of Services). Following the death of Trevor Inch in 1995, Roscoe Taggart was elected Chairman of the Committee. Roscoe played a major role in the Resource Consent process, leading to Consent approval, in part, in 1996.
Publicity of the Council’s intention resulted in unsolicited responses from various professionals offering services to investigate the concept and to prepare a feasibility report. A joint venture entity, known as the Combined Canterbury Irrigation Consultants (CCIC), was established to investigate the feasibility of upgrading the stock water race system. An interesting feature of the contract was that if the report indicated that the scheme was not feasible, CCIC would not be paid.
The pre-feasibility study was completed in March 1990. It concluded that the concept of developing an irrigation scheme based on the Waimakariri-Ashley Water Race Scheme, had merit, and was practical and feasible.
In September 1990, the Irrigation Committee called a public meeting in Cust to consider the report and discuss the potential of a combined irrigation and stock water scheme, based on the conclusions of the pre-feasibility study. Over 250 people attended this meeting of which approx 98% agreed to proceed with the next stage, being a full feasibility study.
Rankine and Hill Limited and Irricon Irrigation Consultants were commissioned for the full Feasibility Study. They released their report in November 1991. It concluded that the potential benefits to be gained from an integrated approach involving both surface and groundwater resources were enormous.
The Rankine and Hill report included the following key points:
The proposed scheme involved the taking of 5.5 cubic metres per second of water for irrigation, from the Waimakariri River at Browns Rock, to a command area of 40,000 hectares adjacent to and below the main race.
A continued take of the existing 1.5 cubic metres per second of water for the stock water system.
An integrated groundwater and surface water management approach that uses summer water for irrigation and winter water for recharging aquifers, to be used for groundwater-supply irrigation.
An assessment of likely farmer reaction, which indicated that about 7300 ha, could be immediately developed for irrigation in the initial phase.
An assessment of the internal rate of return on capital for investment, for farmers using traditional farming methods, of 19.8% at the farm gate level.
An information pack of the above study was mailed out to each property owner. This enabled them to make their own assessment of the potential benefit of the scheme to their property and requested them to complete a Statement of Intent. A further public meeting was held at Cust in August 1991, where 200 people heard the results of the feasibility study.
Pattle Delamore Partners Limited was commissioned to carry out a groundwater study, which was completed in February 1993. This concluded that supplementation of the Ashley and Cust Rivers and aquifer recharge/groundwater supplementation of the Eyre gravels could be a viable and a sensible use of the regions water resources.
It was during this meeting that the Waimakariri Irrigation Scheme changed its name to the Waimakariri Ashley-Water Management Scheme (WAWMS). This new name incorporated the concept of the Waimakariri River water resource being used for a variety of different outcomes; for the augmentation of river flows and for stock, irrigation, wetland development and aquifer recharge. This can be seen in the following extract from a 1993 WAWMS newsletter.
Potential Area for Irrigation Distribution Races
Ashley and Cust River Supplementation
The Ashley River has a tendency to dry up in summer. This affects wildlife, recreational users, and river irrigators. By providing water from the Waimakariri when the Ashley is low, it will be possible to keep the Ashley flow above the existing minimum flow most of the time. This will vastly improve the situation for fish and wildlife, and river users.
Irrigators using Ashley water will have much greater security, as the likelihood of low flows caused by banning of abstractions will be greatly reduced. The Cust River also suffers from low flows in dry periods. It will be possible to add water to the Cust to ensure that it continues to flow above the minimum flow level where irrigation from the river has to stop. This will be a major benefit to Cust Irrigators, and will also enhance the fish and wildlife environment.
During the 1993-1995 period many meetings were held with local property owners and with special interest groups to discuss the report’s findings.
In May 1996 WAWMS, through the Waimakariri District Council, applied for a Resource Consent for irrigation and to allow the supplementation of the Ashley and Cust River flows.
The Ashley and the Waimakariri rivers are the most heavily used rivers in Canterbury. There were large advantages to be gained with the enhancement of the Ashley and the Cust for recreation, fishing and in the recharging of the Eyre and Ashley aquifers.
However, these benefits have not been gained because the Resource Consent application was not approved. The main reason why this consent was not granted was stated to be because of expected turbidity differences between the Waimakariri River and Ashley river waters ( in spite of plans to pass the water through wet lands and a major silt trap). A further concern was the unknown effect that Waimakariri water might have on attracting Waimakariri River salmon into the Ashley River (false homing).
During a major drought in 1998, during which several rivers ran dry, letters were written to the Editor of “The Press ” in Christchurch concerning the numbers of fish dying because of a lack of water in local rivers. It was written that these fish would not have perished if recreational fishers and other interest groups had not objected to the enhancement plans for the same rivers during the Resource Consent process.
Just as Marmaduke Dixon had provided the political persuasion necessary to build the stock water race system a century earlier, Trevor Inch was the driving force that championed the concept of of what has become the present scheme. Because of the universal respect he commanded and because of his ability to bring others around to his way of thinking, this irrigation project moved beyond the “couple of meetings” stage allowing others to take over after his death and take the concept to a satisfactory conclusion.
Like Marmaduke Dixon a hundred years ago, Trevor Inch never got to see the scheme, having died, as mentioned previously, in 1995. Some of his words that he said that he will be remembered for were…
“The future of the Waimakariri Ashley plains area and the Waimakariri community is bound up with the Waimakariri Ashley Water Management Scheme. If the scheme goes ahead, the Waimakariri-Ashley plains will become the garden of Christchurch. If the scheme does not go ahead, the plains area will become the bedroom of Christchurch”.
Shortly before he died, Trevor made it very clear to his successor as Mayor of the Waimakariri District, Janice Skurr, how important he believed the scheme would be to the district. At the hand-over of the above Committee to Waimakariri Irrigation Ltd (on the 20th April 1998), Janice described Trevor Inch’s special request to her that she complete the irrigation scheme. In spite of vigorous debate by Council during which the future of Council support was in serious jeopardy, Mrs. Skurr continued to champion the cause and support his vision.
The support of the Council, both financially and morally, and of all the existing water race users (approximately 1100), provided the vehicle for the irrigation scheme to eventuate. It is for this reason that a plaque has been erected near the intake at Browns rock to record the gratitude of all race users, irrigation and stock water, for the Waimakariri District Councillors and Council staff and all stock water rate payers. Without their cooperation the Waimakariri Irrigation scheme would not have come to fruition.
An Irrigation Committee was established to initiate scheme planning. Having successfully obtained a Resource Consent for irrigation (but having been turned down on river supplementation to all but the Eyre), it now needed to raise the required funding. It was decided to form a co-operative company would issue a prospectus and raise the funds and, in short, replace the Irrigation Committee. The company was registered as Waimakariri Irrigation Ltd (WIL) on 1 April 1998 and as a cooperative company on 26th June 1998. This was a reversion to the original title because the enhancement of the Ashley and the Cust rivers, as envisioned in the original Waimakariri – Ashley Water Management Scheme title, was no longer an option.
Coopers and Lybrand and the Waimakariri District Council following a keen response from the advertised vacancies, selected five Directors. They were Donald Young (Chairman), Robert Spark and Roscoe Taggart (both from the previous Committee), Gerald Clemens and Richard Allison. The Council appointed two directors, Messrs Trevor Minchington (the Council’s Drainage Asset Manager) and Leicester Steven. Leicester retired as a Director in 1999. Gareth James was appointed to take his place.
Gareth, as the Council’s former Services Manager, had been a strong supporter of the scheme from the very first meetings that were held and, with the other “originals”, Roscoe Taggart and Bob Spark, ensured a succession and consistency that has been invaluable in the maintaining the scheme’s direction and management.
The original committee and subsequent Board members all gave their time on a voluntary basis and this community commitment was matched by the goodwill and co-operation of all of the race users and shareholders.
The Waimakariri District Council, were also totally supportive of the scheme to the extent , bridged the funding costs of the Resource Consent application process by providing interest free loans totalling $679 000 and guaranteeing construction loans for the first five years. This vital seed capital was repaid in full by WIL in 1999 at the opening of the scheme. In return for this short-term loan, the district has an excellent, low cost , automated water race system that is already bringing very significant long term financial and employment benefits to the district. It represents a very good example as to how the co-operative spirit of a district can benefit not only those on the land but also, through the flow-on affects, the rest of the community. These benefits are often under-estimated. The Rangitata Diversion Race was constructed during the 1930`s depression and 63 years later the social and economic benefits are still growing. In 1996, it was calculated that the additional annual income directly attributable to the Rangitata scheme, was $138 million to the Ashburton district, a significant $5738 per head of population. This economic activity ensured that the Ashburton district had the lowest level of unemployment nationally at that time.
The scheme was funded by four fixed rate loans totalling $3.3 million, for terms of up to ten years.. Issuing 11,000 shares to 250 shareholders at $364 each raised an additional $4,004,000. Another 3,000 shares have since been issued at $400 each. Waimakariri Irrigation limited and yet another share issue of 4,000 shares at $510 was successfully completed in January 2002. The timing of the original borrowing was fortunate in that large interest savings were achieved against the rates proposed at the time of the prospectus six months previously.
David Attewell (Attewell Irrigation Consultants) had been contracted by the Irrigation Committee during the Consent process to work with Peter Callander from environmental and resource engineers Pattle Delamore Partners. Attewell had a reputation from farmers in the Maniototo and the Opuha Dam scheme as an irrigation consultant with a practical, common sense approach. Strong references and existing knowledge of the Waimakariri-Ashley water races led to his appointment as Project Manager. He steered the development bringing the $7.3 million scheme in on time , under budget and with improvements in addition to the scheme as detailed in the prospectus.
Because of the lack of detailed information regarding geology of the proposed alignment of the main race between the Waimakariri and Ashley rivers, and because of the need for the intake to be designed to operate in and withstand the rigours of a Waimakariri River in full flood, it was decided to seek proposals on a “Design and Build” (Turn Key) basis for principal contract involving the intake and the main race from four qualified construction companies. Doug Hood Limited of Ashburton were the successful Tenderers for the main contract. Construction began in October 1998 and was effectively completed within twelve months in time for a formal opening ceremony at the intake on the 30th October 1999.
The biggest engineering challenge encountered was the poor nature of the gravels along the terrace immediately downstream from the intake. The intention had been to widen and deepen the existing water race along this seven kilometre section of the race as it wound its way to the top of the terrace. However, soon after starting construction it became obvious that the gravels could not support a race designed to carry 10.5 cumecs. As a consequence, a major buttress had to be constructed along the side of the terrace and a wholly new race built within it. The design of this feature required that it be able to withstand a Richter Force 8 earthquake.
My thanks to
Of the Oxford Museum
Writer: Richard Allison