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Omakau Irrigation Scheme

Central Otago Regional Identity Partner

A World of Difference

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For 30 years Roger Williams has been operations manager for the Omakau Area Irrigation Scheme. It’s a balancing act maintaining the right amount of water in the Manuherikia River and delivering much-needed water to land-based businesses and households. River watersupplemented by Falls Dam water when its drier—is supplied to about 90 clients through a network of races.

Roger describes himself as a `Dunedin townie’ who’s always been interested in the land. After leaving school he worked on farms in Balclutha and the Maniototo before he had the opportunity to work on both the Hawkdun and Maniototo Irrigation schemes. He shifted to the Omakau Area Irrigation Scheme 30 years ago.  

“I fell into this irrigation job by accident. My wife was a physio and she was talking with a patient who said they were looking for a `raceman’. She came home and told me that someone was looking for a raceman and I didn’t know what that meant so I said `Great! So that’s like motor-racing?”  

“This job is quite amazing. It’s quite different between different months and seasons. The summer is exceptionally busy, 24/7.”

Old Ways, New Ways

Regional value: Learning from the Past

Roger appreciates the season’s cycles and the changing ways people interact with land and water. While he takes advantage of newer technologies that smooth the process of shifting water to the right place at the right time, he’s also cognisant of tried and true ways.  

“I have the `blue bible’, an inch and a half thick, which has all the old water rights in it and a detailed description of every race and every structure. I’ve changed so much it actually needs to be rewritten.”  

“But I’m sitting comfortably, having learnt from past experience of my own and other generations, and I’d quite like to pass that knowledge on to future generations.”

Valuing the Past

Regional value: Respecting Others

Deep in steep, rocky gullies, goldminers built the races that today transport water to local farms and households. In harsh, inhospitable conditions they chiselled and stacked rocks, lining newly formed races with dirt.  

“I always respect the pioneers who built these races, particularly the Thomson’s Creek one. When I’m driving up there with power steering, either the heater or the air conditioning on, arm hanging out the window and Pink Floyd playing on the radio, I just think of the pioneering men that built that, pick and shovel … hard, hard days.”

“Not many people get to see the water races because they’re so far up in the gorge. I guess in time they will disappear, slowly building their way back into the hillside.”

Looking after our place

Regional value: Protecting Our Rich Heritage

The character of the harsh terrain where water races clamber has captured Roger’s heart. He believes in looking after these unique places—the land, water, flora and fauna—for future generations.  

“In the 30 years I’ve been here we are looking after the environment better and better, as we learn more. Life is a learning curve where you learn more as you go along.”  

“I do like trying to protect the heritage involved with the old water races and the flora and fauna. There’s a lone kowhai tree that I’ve only just found in the last 12 months because it’s way up in the gully. I’ve taken some seeds from it. I’d quite like to get some of the old trees growing that we don’t have any long

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