A Central Otago group now has all $1.5 million in funding required to proceed with a full feasibility study to expand the reach and reliability of irrigation in the Manuherikia and Ida Valley catchments, and is on target to complete it by December, 2014.
The proposal has the potential to increase the reliability of irrigation in both catchments and increase the total area of fully irrigated land from around 15,000ha to 35,000ha.
The Government's decision to contribute $750,000 - half the $1.5 million cost of the full feasibility study - through the Irrigation Acceleration Fund (IAF), has been welcomed by all parties involved in investigations.
The Otago Regional Council has already invested about $370,000 in pre-feasibility studies and has committed another $170,000 this financial year, and $50,000 in the 2014/15 year towards the full feasibility study.
Pioneer Generation has committed $15,000 towards the next stage, and existing irrigation companies and landowners within the command area have contributed about $570,000, according to the independent chairman of the Manuherikia Catchment Water Strategy Group, Allan Kane, of Tarras.
Kane said the group now had all the funding it required to complete the feasibility study and could get on with the next phase of investigations.
It had advertised for contractors to manage the study and could now sign a contract with the successful applicant, Golder Associates.
Consultants will look at five potential opportunities for development of irrigation infrastructure identified by the recently completed pre-feasibility study.
The first is a dam at Mt Ida, serving the top end of the Ida Valley, and the second is another dam somewhere in the Manorburn catchment, serving the other end of the Ida Valley.
The study recommends upgrading the existing Manuherikia Irrigation Scheme and offers two options to increase water storage in this catchment, by raising Falls Dam, near St Bathans, by 5 metres or 27m.
Kane said earlier this year that the Manuherikia catchment was not short of water, but was short of water storage.
Raising Falls Dam to 27m would increase stored water 10-fold, and would have huge economic and social benefits for the region, he said.
A new dam would provide full reliability to current irrigators, and if coupled with a new high race to replace the Omakau Irrigation Company race, could irrigate a further 14,500ha of farmland.
Last week he said one of the crucial elements of getting any irrigation scheme off the ground was community buy-in, in terms of water availability and cost.
The next issue was to ensure there were enough farmers prepared to take up shares in any proposed irrigation company.
"All farmers are at different stages in their thinking, but certainly the big majority of farmers have agreed to contribute to this feasibility study," Kane said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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