Dave Finlay QSM

June 5, 2017

Dave Finlay has received recognition for his decades of service to irrigation, agriculture, sport and the community.

Mr David Finlay has played a key role in organising the irrigation of farmland in the Lower Waitaki region.

Mr Finlay has served for 41 consecutive years on the committee of the Lower Waitaki Irrigation scheme and the Board of the Lower Waitaki irrigation company, a scheme that irrigates more than 19,000 hectares of farmland.

In the 1990s he was a key player in the Irrigation North Otago group that developed an irrigation solution for the hills and downlands of North Otago. His contributions to irrigation have transformed the region and he has overseen the developments from inception through to completion.

In 1976 he was a founding member of the Lower Waitaki Golf Club and served as the Club President for four years. He is an active member of the St Kevin’s College Foundation and is involved with leading meetings, raising funds and recruiting new members.

He was a member of North Otago Federated Farmers and served a two year term as the Meat and Wool Chairman, representing the region in Wellington.

Mr Finlay has also held several coaching and administrative roles for North Otago Rugby and his efforts have encouraged schoolchildren to take up the sport.

Dave’s enthusiasm and dedication are legendary, he has more than earned this recognition for his service.

The ODT covers Dave’s QSM and other Southern recipients of honours here.


Majority of NZers appreciate irrigation

February 8, 2014

An independent phone poll, commissioned by Irrigation New Zealand, reveals that New Zealanders – regardless of political leaning – see irrigation as good.

The poll also confirms that New Zealanders recognise the link between irrigation and their ability to access cheap and plentiful produce in their supermarkets.

The survey canvassed 1,000 respondents from Auckland, Canterbury, Wellington, Wairarapa and Hawkes Bay to better understand public perceptions of irrigation.

The only one of the areas surveyed  – Auckland, Canterbury, Wellington, Wairarapa and Hawkes Bay – which has significant areas of irrigation is, I think Canterbury.

Irrigation CEO, Andrew Curtis, says he didn’t expect such a positive response to irrigation from the New Zealand public and is encouraged by the results.

“Close to two-thirds overall agree that irrigation is good for New Zealand. This appears to be the case across the political spectrum which reinforces our belief in the need for a bi-partisan approach to irrigation,” he says.

“In an election year our plea is for politicians to come together to develop a strong vision to continue modernising irrigation infrastructure and practice which would drive sustainable development and achieve benefits for all.”

The poll also identified food production, water management and economic growth as major benefits of irrigation. Environmental impact was identified as a concern and there was a call from respondents for irrigation to be used responsibly – for irrigators to limit losses from nutrients as a result of irrigation; for water use to continue to be monitored and for water wastage to be limited.

This can easily be managed through the resource consent process. North Otago Irrigation Company’s requirement for all shareholders to have environment farm plans which are independently audited each year is a good model.

Andrew Curtis says that irrigation is not just a rural issue and that all New Zealanders need to use water efficiently. The focus now needs to turn to urban and rural water storage development. Providing more information about irrigation to the public is also essential he says.

“The survey shows us New Zealand recognise irrigation’s role in producing affordable and diverse food, but they want to know more about how irrigation works, who is responsible and how it impacts the environment,” he comments.

“We are working with agencies, organisations and individuals to minimise the impact of irrigation on our rivers and river flow and water quality limits are being set so that irrigators sustainably manage the water we all value.” . . .

It is disappointing that few recognise the environmental benefits or irrigation. But it’s not surprising when it’s far more often in the news when there are problems than for good reasons such as its ability to improve water quality and protect fragile soils.

There is no mention of the recreational benefits either, such as this one on the Lower Waitaki.

Imagine having key access to a private waterway with a suite of yachts, kayaks and paddleboards available for year-round use.

It’s not the lifestyles of the rich and famous, but an exciting new initiative by a group of Oamaru dairy farmers who have made sailing and kayaking accessible to anyone in their North Otago community.

The farmers, all shareholders of the Lower Waitaki Irrigation Company, saw an opportunity for recreational use of a 5 hectare irrigation buffer pond developed just over a year ago. With the support of the irrigation company, they created the Lower Waitaki Water Sports Trust to progress the concept.

While the pond was built for irrigation storage, Trust Chairman Richard Willans says its proximity to Oamaru, easy access and un-impeded views make it ideal for anyone wanting to learn how to sail or paddle. “It’s the safest place to get out and learn on. You can see the whole pond from any point as it’s just so flat.” Local farmers supported the project as a way to encourage greater interaction between townies and farmers. “We want to get people from the town out into the country,” he says.

Ironically, Mr Willans admits none of the trust’s committee had sailing or paddling experience before getting involved, but local boaties and kayakers have been happy to provide advice. He says they’re enthusiastic about the new water asset on their back door-step which compares favorably to the next closest waterways, the Waitaki Lakes, which take another 40 minutes to reach.

The project to date has cost more than $150,000 with the trust sourcing funding from the irrigation company, local businesses, Meridian Trust, Waitaki District Council and the Otago Community Trust. An A4 bay shed for storage, fencing of the area and a car park were completed just before Christmas and the project’s jewel in the crown is a floating jetty.

For only $50 a year, key holders gain access to the pond as well as the use of 10 yachts, 15 kayaks and two paddleboards stored at the lake. Water safety measures including lifejackets and a fully inflatable motorized rescue boat are also available on-site.  

The Lower Waitaki Irrigation Company granted the trust a long term peppercorn rent for the site as Chairman Chris Dennison says the company sees the project as worthy.

“In constructing the pond we aimed to design structures and controls so they posed no harm to the public and the risk to users would be minimal. Working with the community on this joint venture has produced a great outcome and all this happened very quickly. The pond was only built in late 2012 and the trust’s facilities were finished last month,” he says.

Originally the pond was going to embrace day visitors such as anglers, but advice from a health and safety consultant suggested compulsory membership would safeguard its farmer-backers. You have to be a member of the trust to use the pond; however membership is open to anyone who is happy to abide by a comprehensive list of rules in place to ensure the safety of all users. 

An official opening of the pond will take place in the next couple of months and the trust hopes to bring un-named Olympians to town to launch the project.

The ODT has more on the waters sports park here.


Irrigation’s not just for farmers

January 20, 2014

IrrigationNZ chief executive, Andrew Curtis, shows irrigation isn’t just for farmers:

You finally made it out of the office and hit the road for a much-deserved break. Whether you towed a boat, carried mountain bikes or packed the caravan or tent for a quick escape this summer, chances are you took advantage of irrigation infrastructure.

While most of us think of our waterways as natural, the reality is many popular water destinations have been modified to support farming or energy production.  Your annual summer holiday just as likely included a dip in a river or lake that helps generate electricity or waters crops as it was swimming at the local pool.  

Increasingly farmers and irrigation scheme managers are incorporating recreation interests when they design new systems. Event managers and community groups are also recognising the unique potential of irrigation canals and storage ponds for fundraising and thrill-seeking. 

The challenge for those managing irrigation infrastructure is ensuring holiday makers and adrenalin junkies can be safely integrated into commercial operations, without impeding vital irrigation flows. We profile several irrigation schemes working with their communities to provide access to water for activities other than irrigation.

New Zealand’s largest irrigation scheme, the Rangitata Diversion Race (RDR) is also one of our oldest. Depression-era labour was used initially to build the race which officially opened in 1945.

Several Mid Canterbury community groups already take advantage of the RDR’s 67km of canals – most visibly the ‘Peak to Pub’, ‘Big Day at the Office’ and Frostbusters’ multisport races. 

And this Easter, a new endurance horse-riding event is likely to see riders crossing the canals as part of 36 hours on horse-back in the district.

Ben Curry, CEO of the RDR, says it’s a balancing act providing access, as health and safety as well as operational and insurance issues, need to be taken into account. But the company tries to find ways to accommodate requests.

While swimming is not allowed due to multiple potential hazards within the water (some of which are submerged), fishing, duck-shooting and cycling along the canals are permitted. A local tourism company has just been given approval to offer high-end cycle tours along the RDR close to the foothills, and the Methven Walkway, created by the local Lions group and a well-used visitor attraction, meanders along sections of the race. 

“We had hoped that the RDR would have been included in the National Cycleway network. It’s still an aspiration,” says Mr Curry.

Lake Opuha is the jewel in the crown when promoters cite wider benefits from irrigation. The man-made 700 hectare lake not only provides water for 230 farms, but as the most accessible lake in South Canterbury, is a magnet for local boaties, kayakers and rowers. 

While rainbow trout were found in Opuha River before the dam was built, brown trout and salmon have since been released into the lake.

Opuha Water Ltd CEO Tony McCormick says since it was filled in 1998, the lake has been a popular destination for anglers and boaties.

His irrigation company supports community use of the lake and its related systems where it can.

Fundraising events are common and one of the most colourful is South Canterbury Diabete’s annual duck race held in an irrigation channel on Arowhenua Road. Fairlie Lions has run a duathalon and mountain bike event around the lake for the past two years and before that hosted fishing competitions. Local farmer and Lions member Murray Bell says the lake is the perfect setting. “It’s a great facility and the location is good as it’s convenient.” As a shareholder in the scheme, Mr Bell says he, like other farmers who supported the lake’s development, is buoyed by its success.

“The duathalon is such a small part of it. Any weekend you are there it’s crowded with boats and in the early mornings you watch the rowing clubs turn up.”

Keith McRobie is President of the Timaru Rowing Club and can vouch for Opuha’s value.

“We’ve used the lake pretty much since it was filled. We are quite limited in Timaru with just a 1km stretch of water so it was a Godsend to have something developed just 45km from town.”

Opuha is pretty much rowable year-round as it is sheltered and accessible during most weather conditions, says Mr McRobie.

Having access to the lake for the past decade has improved South Canterbury’s rowing results. “The schools here punch above their weight at a regional and national level. Every year we have one or two national representatives and Opuha is part of the reason.”

Discussions are underway with the irrigation company and supporters about dedicated facilities for rowing at the lake. Currently three Timaru schools leave boats stored on local farmers’ properties but ideally a purpose-built storage shed and rowing ramp will result in the future.

“We’ve had some discussions with the company and we’re very keen to pursue. If you compare us with Auckland or any other major city, 45 minutes is not really a problem,” he says.    

The Lake Opuha Users Group was created when the lake was first formed to initiate extra amenities for visitors and recreational users of the lake.

Committee member David Williams says their biggest project to date has been the building of a boat ramp to create safe access. Before that up to 150 cars would converge on a 300m section of lake edge that offered the easiest access. Now 90% of traffic has been redirected to the boat ramp greatly reducing the potential for mayhem, he says.

As a farmer himself, Mr Williams says the biggest challenge now is ensuring the lake’s recreational popularity doesn’t impact on its delivery of water to shareholders. “One of the biggest problems for Opuha in the future could be the issue of minimum flows. Some of the recreational fraternity would like to see fluctuations in river flows. But at the end of the day it is the irrigators who are paying,” he says.

Another issue, not created by recreational use, but occasionally compounded by poor behaviour by some boaties, is the spread of didymo. The irrigation scheme and recreational users will need to work together to tackle the algal bloom problem in the future, says Mr Williams.

“Irrigation has provided a great facility by putting this lake here. For the recreationalists there has been a big spin off. At the end of the day it’s been very positive for them and the economic value to our community is also positive.”

The Lower Waitaki Irrigation Company prides itself on a strong relationship with its community, says Chairman Chris Dennison.

“We’re very keen to add benefits to the whole community and not just through the economic driver that irrigation brings,” he says.

 Among its initiatives is the ‘Take A Kid Fishing’ day which the company resurrected in conjunction with the Waitaki Irrigators Collective after an absence of many years. 

Using a shareholder’s attractive tree-lined pond already stocked with trout, 700 salmon were released resulting in very happy young anglers, says Mr Dennison. “The farmer kept his pond open for several weeks after the event to allow the public to fish in a controlled environment with pretty good odds. For young people fishing is about catching fish and most of the kids went away with something for dinner.”

The company has also worked with a local high school to provide access for a fast water kayaking course. Kayaking experts created the course on the scheme’s intake channel by placing obstacles within the stretch of turbulent water and hanging gates from overhead wires. “The effects for us are minimal and the school has ended up with a really good course with easy access,” he says.

Irrigation schemes are developed, and largely paid for, by farmers but the benefits from them are shared well outside of farming.

The economic spin-off helps those who work for and service farms.

Environmental benefits include protecting fragile soils from wind erosion and enhanced flows in natural waterways.

And then there are the recreational opportunities outlined above.


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