Before 1962 there was little interest in irrigation, despite completion of the Steward Settlement water race in 1912 to serve some 2,600 hectares on the Lower Waitaki Plain, and the operation of an irrigation demonstration farm from 1945 to 1951 by the North Otago Progress League. Formation of the Lower Waitaki Development Committee in 1962 was the first serious attempt to promote irrigation, and by November 1969, when a scheme was finally prepared, 156 farmers on the Lower Waitaki Plains voted in favour of the Government constructing a $2.25 million irrigation scheme.
Construction of the scheme commenced in November 1970, first water being supplied to farmers in September 1974 with all work completed by March 1982. The whole scheme originally irrigated 16000 hectares serving 170 farms. The Final cost of the scheme was $8.98 million.
During the 1980’s the Government undertook a review of its involvement in irrigation and as part of a general removal of agricultural subsidies decided that the government schemes would be sold to local communities.
The Lower Waitaki Irrigation Company was formed as an unlisted public company in 1989 .All assessed irrigable land was allocated $1.00 share per hectare. Commercial users were allocated shares on the basis of $1.00 share per 300m3 allocation .Everyone that uses water is a shareholder.
The Lower Waitaki Irrigation Company purchased the scheme from the Government for a figure of approximately $1 million .The Crown wrote of the balance of the cost of the scheme.
The Lower Waitaki Irrigation Company at present irrigates some 20000 hectares covering 99% of the Lower Waitaki plains East of Black Point including 2500 hectares on adjacent hill country .Current land use is made up of 81% Dairy and dairy support, 9% sheep and beef and 10% cropping & horticulture, a dramatic change in land use from the beginning of the Scheme in the early 80’s. The scheme also supplies commercial water to local industries and domestic supply for the town of Oamaru.
The Lower Waitaki irrigation Scheme draws water from the Waitaki River at Black Point and distributes approximately 1.4 million m3 per day at peak operation to 200 shareholders via 9000 hectares of border dyke and 11000 hectares of spray irrigation. Water is delivered to the farm offtakes under gravity through a distribution network made up of 200 kilometres of open canals and 12.5 kilometres of siphons and pipework.
The company continue to invest money into the up grading of infrastructure including automated gate control systems and telemetered canal flow monitoring. Along with the recent construction of a 5 hectare balancing pond at Ferry road the Company is heavily focused on water efficiency whilst continuing to deliver a reliable supply of water to our shareholders.