In the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s I took photos of the Waiareka Valley from Mitchell’s Hill in Enfield.
This is what it looked like with any irrigated land standing out like blots of green ink on parchment.
Thanks to the North Otago Irrigation Company Scheme this is what it looks like now:
The big brown patch is barley, in the distance are dry land hills which stand out against the irrigated paddocks.
Unlike many other areas where irrigation has been curtailed or cut altogether, the NOIC scheme and others in the district which are fed from the Waitaki River keep going. The Waitaki keeps on flowing to generate electricity providing enough water to spare for irrigation and still keep the river above its minimum flow level.
If it wasn’t for so much irrigation in North Otago now the media would have been full of drought stories and Oamaru would be feeling the pinch as farmers stopped spending.
Now enough water keeps flowing in the river to irrigate the land, money keeps flowing into town and the busineses which service and supply farmers.
The economic and social benefits of that are obvious.
The environmental benefit is less obvious but equally valuable.
Water on land keeps pasture growing, protecting soils from erosion. A condition of consent for the scheme was that water was diverted to the Waiareka Creek to keep it flowing. In the past it would have been a series of stagnant pools after so little rain, now it runs clear.
Irrigation has made farming in North Otago sustainable. The economic, environmental and social benefits of that flow through the district.
There are other parts of New Zealand where water could be stored at times of high flow to be used in dry weather but in the current political climate the chances of that happening are slight.