Wells = wellbeing
The bitter and expensive dispute between councillor-farmer Graham Sharp and the Gore District Council has put the focus on water. The council's district assets manager Paul Withers tells reporter Evan Harding why the Cooper's Wells water bores on the Sharp farm are so vital to the Gore township, and he explains what people can do to help ensure the water keeps flowing.
The Gore District Council's battle to protect its water supply to the Gore township is underpinned by the fact no suitable alternative water source has been found, district assets manager Paul Withers says.
After a lengthy and expensive battle between the council and the Sharp Trust, independent commissioners have prohibited all farming activity on 3.9ha of land surrounding the Cooper's Wells water bores, while various farming restrictions have also been imposed on a further 13ha surrounding the bores on the Sharp farm.
The decision should ensure the integrity of the water source for Gore township is protected for future generations.
Withers said the wells on the Sharp farm were a vital Gore asset as no suitable alternative supply has been found.
"It just makes us very appreciative of the asset we have at Cooper's Wells and highlights the need to preserve the water we get."
TheWell's bores, on a Sharp Trust-owned farm on Knapdale Rd, were shallow wells largely reliant on rain water to top up the supply, Withers said.
An average 2.85 million litres of water was extracted from the wells daily, used by 7000 people in the Gore urban area.
The water met the town's needs but the wells came under pressure during extended dry spells, Withers said.
In such times the council used its consent to pump water from the Mataura River to top up the supply, this happening just once - in 2013 - in the last six years.
What water the council could take from the river was less than the demand, so the council was always reliant on Cooper's Wells, Withers said.
He did not believe Cooper's Wells would ever run dry, saying it was a good supply.
However, the capability of the Cooper's Wells infrastructure would decline over time and the council had provision to drill more wells in the designated area when required, he said.
The ongoing negotiations with the Sharp Trust was about ensuring the Cooper's Wells water supply remained a good one for future generations, Withers said.
Alternative water supplies were occasionally suggested to the council but investigations had revealed none met its requirements, with cost a major factor.
Cooper's Wells was an established water source and replacing it would require major infrastructure, Withers said.
Alternative supplies suggested were invariably further away from Gore than Cooper's Wells and would require pipelines to be built over longer distances.
"You have to be mindful of all these aspects. When you are looking for water it's the affordability to the community that is the concern."
The council had investigated various options, including looking at storing water when it was plentiful so it could be used in times of need.
"Once we have exhausted everything else, it's there as an option," Withers said.
But there were impediments to storage, including the fact the Mataura River could not be dammed and the clays in the area were not suitable for ground storage, meaning costly purpose-built reservoirs would need to be built.
Withers suggested people could also do its part in ensuring the Gore water supply was not put at risk by not wasting water in their daily lives.
And if more people had water tanks on their properties they would fill up in times of rainfall, such as that experienced in recent weeks.
The tank water could be used for the likes of washing cars and watering gardens so the treated water from Cooper's Wells could be used predominantly as drinking water, Withers said.