The Waitaki Dam was the first of eight to be built on the Waitaki River and the last to be to be built by the pick and shovel method .
Construction started in 1928. The decision to use labour rather than machines was a deliberate one to provide work during the Depression but it wasn’t easy work:
. . . working conditions were hard with cold winters, flooding, and earthquakes to work through. The work force often toiled in knee high water, and lived in temporary housing near the site.
It was during these construction years that Kurow’s Presbyterian Minister, later to become Sir Arnold Nordmeyer, and local doctor Dr Harold McMillan, saw the working and housing conditions and the many who camped near the site hoping for work. As a result these two men began the initial thinking around what was to become one of the world’s first social welfare assistance programmes – the Social Welfare Act (passed by Parliament in 1938).
The dam was commissioned in 1934 and Meridian Energy, which now owns it, hosted public celebrations for its 75th anniversary yesterday.
David Bruce covered the dam’s history and interviewed some of the people who worked on it for the ODT.
Waitaki’s Deputy Mayor, Gary Kircher, blogs on yesterday’s celebrations.
This photo of the dam was taken earlier this year when Meridian was spilling water becasue the lakes were too full.