IrrigationNZ chairperson Nicky Hyslop does the honours at the opening of the Waihao Downs irrigation project. She is flanked by WDI chairman Robin Murphy (left) and WDI vice chairman Jon Kirk.
South Canterbury’s challenging $32 million Waihao Downs irrigation project has opened under budget and 10 months ahead of schedule.
Irrigation New Zealand chairwoman Nicky Hyslop cut the ribbon before a crowd of about 400 on Tuesday afternoon and congratulated the Waihao Downs community, south of Timaru, on achieving their vision on budget and before the expected completion date.
“Shareholders and management must be commended for their tenacity, leadership and drive in pushing this project through in challenging times,” she said.
“It’s a great example of what can be achieved when a community gets together and supports this kind of project.”
The scheme was projected to cost shareholders $820 per hectare but instead came in at $720/ha. It will feed 32 irrigators over an area of 3500ha in the Waihao Downs area.
Work commenced on the scheme in January 2015, with the build complete and water ready to go late last month. It is an extension of the existing Morven Glenavy Ikawai (MGI) scheme and to provide the extra water needed, MGI’s race was enlarged to increase capacity from 6 cubic metres per second to 7.5 cumecs.
MGI vice-chairman Jon Kirk was one of the key instigators of the scheme.
Kirk, the inventor of K line irrigation, had spoken when construction started last year of the difficulties of the scheme.
“We were investigating getting water over the hill to a couple of farms in the Waihao Valley and as we stood on the side of the road it dawned on us that if it was possible to get water over to two farms, why not do the whole valley,” Kirk said.
Approached in 2002, Kirk developed several plans on a pro bono basis but it was seven years before the scheme was consented. In the meantime, the price per irrigated hectare had doubled and Attewell Irrigation Consultants, which had taken the scheme to the consent phase, had dropped out. Rooneys Earthmoving (REL) was enlisted and subsequently saw the scheme through to completion.
“We originally consented for 6800ha and put it out to farmers to buy shares but couldn’t get more than 3500ha signed up,” Kirk said.
“At no stage did we reduce the amount of water available. In the end, the decision was made to build the scheme to the shares purchased rather than have ‘dry shares’. If you don’t buy in the first few years, with interest added, the price gets beyond people and that is a dangerous precedent – the scheme either goes broke or has a fire sale. With Waihao, we opted to design and build with what we had sold.”
Kirk attributed the speed at which the project was completed to REL and project manager Brendan Sheehan, of Wanaka. REL had “thrown men and machinery at the project”, he said.
REL chief executive Garry Rooney praised the hard work and dedication of his crew at getting the project done “under time and under budget”.
“The project design received accolades throughout the country,” he said.
“Water gives life and we can afford developments such as this so long as there are checks and balances.”
The opening coincided with the IrrigationNZ biannual conference in Oamaru.