‘Do­ing noth­ing isn’t an op­tion’


A thick cut in the hill­side snakes along the rolling ter­rain for miles.

On closer in­spec­tion it re­veals it­self as an his­toric wa­ter race that has pro­vided Gary and Kathy Kel­li­her’s Cen­tral Otago farm with a semi-re­li­able wa­ter sup­ply since the 1920s.

Kel­li­her, a third-gen­er­a­tion farmer at Spring­vale, is one of about 600 landown­ers in the Manuherikia catch­ment, who ei­ther draws wa­ter through one of the four ir­ri­ga­tion schemes in the area, and/or is an in­di­vid­ual deemed per­mit holder.

These prop­erty own­ers and ir­ri­ga­tion com­pa­nies are at a cross­roads. They have un­til Oc­to­ber 25 to ex­press in­ter­est in the Manuherikia Catch­ment Wa­ter Strat­egy Group (MCWSG), and de­fine their in­volve­ment and con­tri­bu­tion to fu­ture wa­ter use in the catch­ment. They have been asked to sup­port, and jointly fund, a multi-mil­lion ir­ri­ga­tion scheme that will of­fer a more re­li­able and sus­tain­able wa­ter source through rais­ing Falls Dam.

The strat­egy group, made up of landown­ers, ir­ri­ga­tion com­pa­nies, en­vi­ron­men­tal and con­ser­va­tion groups, has worked for the past 18 months in­ves­ti­gat­ing op­tions, in­clud­ing the pre­ferred ‘‘high dam’’ op­tion of rais­ing the dam 20 me­tres. This op­tion will pro­vide about 70 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres of wa­ter for ir­ri­ga­tion use; pro­vide for a sup­ply re­li­a­bil­ity by vol­ume of at least 96 per cent on av­er­age and at least 90 per cent dur­ing a one in 10 year drought event. This op­tion is ex­pected to cost about $80 mil­lion and about $100 mil­lion for dis­tri­bu­tion, and will pro­vide wa­ter for 25,000ha. Lower dam op­tions re­duce the area to 12,500ha.

‘‘This is big ticket stuff. And the im­pact it will have on ev­ery­one in­volved is game chang­ing,’’ Kel­li­her says.

‘‘Do­ing noth­ing is not an op­tion. Work­ing to­gether col­lec­tively is the only way for­ward. For these rea­sons I am a strong sup­porter of the MCWSG model. Our fam­ily is as af­fected as any­one else. We have a 500ha farm with 350ha of what we be­lieve are ir­ri­ga­ble hectares. This is what I mean about game chang­ing. All as­pi­ra­tions for a farm­ing ca­reer end up need­ing to be thought about all at once. If you don’t re­turn a form you may be fac­ing dry times in the fu­ture.’’

A full com­mu­nity meet­ing is planned for Novem­ber 3 in Alexandra.


Sil­ver medal­lists Re­becca Scown and Genevieve Behrent, with Millers Flat School pupils.

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