Brian Halstead, spokesman for a group of irrigators from Waimea Irrigators and Waters Users Inc, has suggested an alternative to the $82.5 million Waimea dam in the Lee Valley. The proposal is for a series of clay-lined, in-ground reservoirs along the Wairoa River to be filled during winter months. At an estimated cost of around $25 million, it is significantly cheaper than the dam option.
While that was less than half of the storage tipped for the proposed Waimea dam, it would “better serve the community and irrigators as a shorter-term measure at a fraction of the cost”.
The irrigators predict it will meet the needs of the irrigators in the Richmond / Mapua area for the next 40 years. The money generated from selling the water could also go toward paying down council debt.
The current mayor, Richard Kempthorne, welcomed the proposal and mayor hopeful, Maxwell Clark, branded it as an “excellent scheme” worthy of investigation. While Kit Maling, the other mayoral contender, was sceptical it would adequately meet the needs and did not want the dam proposal delayed because of a potential change of Government next year which could affect Government funding.
Read more here.
While this option is worth considering, I believe it is only better serving the community of irrigators, not the community as a whole. Council has already wasted an extraordinary amount of money on a temporary solution with the construction of a dam in the 88 Valley. This dam (which ran well over budget – surprisingly), has no water catchment and takes over 2 years to fill when emptied. It also drains through a swamp before the water makes its way to the river affecting the quality of water in the Wai-iti river.
The reservoir option sounds a lot like another stopgap measure that will provide short-term relief at the expense of the inevitable long-term requirement for the region. That is 25 million (if on budget) plus the price of land purchase, on top of the millions spent in 88 valley, and still, we have the problem that the residential water supply is currently insufficient to meet current needs in dry years without accounting for future population growth.
There is no doubt that we need to meet the needs of irrigators, and soon before we have salt water intrusion into our aquifers. But can we afford to allocate another 25 million dollars on, at best, a 40-year stopgap?
I think Kit Maling is correct, we are better focusing on the dam that will future proof our water woes for years to come. Spend the money once and spend it right instead of throwing good money after bad.
What is needed is a better funding solution for the dam. Let us see some more creativity applied to that problem.