Irrigation lake provides recreational and environmental benefits

Geoff Spark and his family spent two summers planting native trees around the edge of their 500-metre irrigation lake.

An Eyrewell irrigation lake has been transformed into an attractive recreational resort with riparian planting increasing biodiversity and providing habitat for native birds.

Geoff and Rochelle Spark started work on the dam in 2010 and while the main purpose of the lake was irrigation, recreation also played an important role in the design process.

“Right from the start we designed it with recreation in mind. Being 500 metres long and 120 metres wide makes it suitable for kayaking, water-skiing and swimming.

“We wanted a beautiful place that we could enjoy with family and friends, while also providing water for irrigation.”

Geoff recommends starting with a master plan as there are many variables to consider and these need to be decided before starting work.

“Before you dig the first hole for your dam, make sure you have a design plan and carefully consider what other uses you want for the water and the surrounding area.”

Having a plan meant that the pad for the family’s lake house, which was built in 2014, was laid when the dam was built which saved time and money. Geoff also sought advice on riparian planting to ensure that the plants wouldn’t cause issues with the dam wall.

“We were advised to plant flaxes and cabbage trees. They’re natives and have a relatively small root system so they won’t impact the dam wall which is the key criteria for this project. They’re also relatively hardy and can survive without watering.”

Geoff and his family spread the planting project over a two-year period with the aim of using the plants to soften the look of the dam and to enhance biodiversity.

“We pre-ripped it and planted into the top of the dam wall. To make it look natural we planted the flaxes and cabbage trees in irregular groups of two and three about two metres apart.

“It’s a family project for us and it’s important for our three kids to see everything growing because it comes back to guardianship of the land.”

Witnessing a wide range of birds return to the area, along with the surprise growth of bulrushes and grasses along the lake edge has been another positive for the family.

“It provides a great habitat for wildlife. We’ve got ducks, swans, oyster catchers and shags here at different times of the year. The bulrushes and grasses grew along the edge of the lake on their own which adds a natural feel to the lake.”

Work has also started on an area called the “duck pond” and a planting project to camouflage a sileage bunker. These are all works in progress and Geoff says there’s no need to do everything at once.

“Just do it step by step. We love being out here at night and listening to the frogs in the duck pond. Ideally, one day we’ll have a garden area for each family member.”

Geoff and his family spend much of their free time over the summer months at the lake and enjoy entertaining friends at the picturesque spot. They’ve also hosted the NZ under 21 kayaking team for practice sessions and will host the Oxman half ironman in December.

“I am very open to using the lake for public good and I’m a big fan of the benefits of fitness so when the Canterbury Triathlon Club contacted me about the event it was easy to say yes.

“We’ll have around 300 people here and I’d like to encourage local people to get involved, especially farmers and farming businesses. There are individual and team options, as well as different race length options, so with a bit of training there’s a race to suit most people’s fitness level.

“It’s a great opportunity to interact with a wide range of different people and to show that we’re part of the wider community.”