Jet skiers taking risks at Benmore dam

MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD
Last updated 09:58 07/01/2014
jet ski
JOHN BISSET/ Fairfax NZ

MAELSTROM: A jet skier gets close to water cascading down the Benmore dam spillway. This photo was taken last January. Environment Canterbury is now concerned at jet skiers putting their lives at risk.

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"Middle-aged boyracers" on jet skis skirting close to the Benmore dam spillway could be putting their lives at risk, according to Canterbury's water safety watchdog.

Generator Meridian Energy is spilling between 700 and 750 cumecs (cubic metres per second) from lakes Aviemore and Benmore.

Environment Canterbury (ECan) recreational boating safety officer Evan Walker said he had no problem with people taking photos of the "spectacular sight" but was worried about those who wanted to get up close to it.

In the last fortnight, Walker and his colleagues had noticed nearly two dozen jet skiers or boaties trying to get "under the waters" as the spill was in full effect.

"It might be exciting and thrilling, but it's also stupid and dangerous. We've been lucky no-one has been injured or worse," he said.

Walker said a man with his three-year-old child once rode a jet ski under the discharge as Benmore was spilling.

"These water-craft aren't made to resist that sort of pressure. If they lose buoyancy, so much could go wrong. It's not young people behaving stupidly. Instead it's middle-aged boyracers spoiling it for everyone else."

There has not been a major incident on the lakes since late 2012, when a 45-year-old suffered serious injuries after crashing into shallow rocks at Lake Aviemore.

Walker said boaties and jet ski riders should stay at least 500m away from the spillway of Lake Benmore during spills.

Meridian spokesperson Michelle Brooker said it was managing inflows as a result of the recent wet weather and also the low demand for electricity.

"As businesses reopen and demand increases, we'll be able to generate more of the water in our catchments. In the meantime we urge people to be aware that river levels are slightly higher than usual," she said.

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- The Timaru Herald

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