Controversial Energy Generation Project on New Zealand's South Island

The Waitaki River is a beautiful, meandering and vast river flowing through New Zeland's south island and separates Canterbury in the north from Otago in the south. It is being fed water from the glaciers and streams from the Southern Alps. It's catchment of 11822 square kilometres makes it the second largest river of New Zealand after the Clutha river.

Project Aqua was government owned Meridian Energy's plan to extend its use as a major source of electricty, adding more engineering works to the already existing four dams, first published in 2001. Meridian proposed to remove 77% of the remaining water flowing down the last 64 kilometers of the Waitaki and divert into a canal running alongside the river, adding another five hydroelectric powerplants.

The last 64 km of the Waitaki are beautiful: the river is left to meander freely across the plains without any human intervention and is a broad, majestic site. The wildlife is impressive and additionally to adding beauty and outdoor pursuits to a rather drab area it serves the surrounding farmers with water for irrigation.

By reducing the waterflow of the Waitaki to a trickle the river would be turned into a glorious gravelbed. Nitrate levels in the ground water would go up, coastal erosion would increase and the area would loose one of its biggest touristic assets.

The surrounding communities were split in the middle about the benefit of this: While some argued that the project would attract attention and more jobs to the region, the other half was worrying about the negative ecological impact on tourism and quality of life. 3 years of political and grassroot-level bickering ensued, and in 2004 Meridian finally pulled the plug on the project, stating lack of governmental support in the resource application process.

Meridian is now telling the nation that we're all going to go back to the Stone Age, as we're all running out of electricity in a couple of years. What the're not telling us of course, is that New Zealand's citizens are pretty noncommittal when it comes to electricity-saving schemes , as there are no government incentives at all to conserve energy at all. Trying to find a house in New Zealand with proper insulation and double - glazing is like trying to find a Kiwi on the South Island.


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