Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Cost be dammed, controversial Waimea water project nears completion

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Aim is to have largest dam built in NZ in more than two decades commissioned by December.
Waimea Irrigators chair Murray King has welcomed the completion of a dam that has been 20 years in the making.
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Growers and farmers in the Tasman district will be eyeing water levels in the region’s new dam as it fills over the coming months. 

The completion of the controversial Waimea Community Dam has been welcomed by longtime supporter Murray King, who has been involved in the project since conception 20 years ago.

In that time, he has seen the cost of the dam – which is intended to cover 5000ha for irrigation – surge from $75 million to just on $200m. At present about 3000ha has already been subscribed for irrigation shares.

Significant increases in raw material costs, covid delays, and difficult geology have all pushed the project well beyond what early investors anticipated. King said he expects the near-$200m figure to be the final one.

Last year he expressed his frustration to Farmers Weekly at budget blowouts that had become regular multimillion-dollar affairs. Waimea Irrigators, which King chairs, are 49% partners in the project with Tasman District Council holding the majority share. 

The last reported cost blowout was for an additional $20m in March 2022. That cost increase was attributed to some unforgiving geology around the dam.

King is one of only three dairy farmers remaining in the dam catchment area, where horticulture dominates.

He said those using existing groundwater sources for irrigation will remain on that, with the dam supplementing dry-year supply and only a small number of irrigators relying solely upon the dam for water source. 

“They are in the process of filling it now in a managed way with levels raised, tested, and then raised further,” King said. 

“They are a little behind from where they planned to be, and it will depend upon how much rainfall we have between now and then.

“But I will not say it is finished until it starts to supply water.”

Waimea Water’s CEO, Mike Scott, said the dam is performing as expected, with teething issues being addressed.

In response to claims that the dam is leaking, Scott said the speculation is unfounded and he is comfortable with how the dam is performing.

“What we most need now is average rainfalls in the dam’s catchment area. It has been very dry recently, but based on advice we are optimistic about the spring weather. With sufficient rainfall we expect to provide water to shareholders and the community this summer,” he said.

“By having the reservoir full and dam commissioned by December, we can provide our shareholders and community with confidence ahead of the forecast windy and dry El Niño summer.”

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