On Monday, I ventured into the countryside to meet with three of the directors of the Highbank Water Scheme, Ian Ridge, Colin Maw and Chairperson, Rob Watson.
They took me to Happy Valley, a property once owned by the Holmes family, passing by the three 25,000L storage tanks on the hill. Rob explained that 1.4km of pipe takes the water from the pump to the tanks. Then that water is gravity fed through over 90km of pipe to the 140 houses on the scheme.
“The water is pumped at a very high pressure,” explained Rob, “we had to get the technology and water treatment right to handle that. The large UV light for example was imported from Germany.”
To ensure water quality that meets Health Department compliance, Ashburton District Council take regular water samples, monthly for turbidity and E Coli and three monthly for mineral levels which is performed by Hills Laboratories.
The Main issue they face, however, is a constant power supply, Monday morning’s wind storm for example, cut the supply and the system had to be rebooted. Although they have a back up which has cured 90% of the problem, sometimes they need to physically restart the system. The tanks once at 20% capacity activates the pump to send more water, so it is constantly draining and refilling. To ensure that only treated water is supplied, there is a failsafe in the system to stop the pumps. In the event of a power outage, a text alert is sent out by the system and one of the directors will attend to it. The current directors as well as Ian, Colin and Rob, are Shari Early, Graham Foster, Ian Maw and Daryl Hydes, Secretary Margaret Thomas has been there since the start.
An incredible amount of thought and effort went into setting up this scheme, and maintaining it for the past 20 years. Rob explained how much more difficult it would be to do the same today, new regulations, Health Department compliance criteria and consents required from ECAN and local council.
So how did it happen? Twenty Years ago, several farmers wives said they had had enough of the filthy water and managed to persuade their husbands to do something ten properties and then gradually as more meetings were held, over 115 houses were on board. The final boundary covered Barkers Road, Line Road, Rakaia River Road and Lauriston Barhill Road.
Murray Foster was the first Chairperson, the scheme was agreed in January 1977 and was followed by a huge community effort; digging trenches, road crossings, laying pipe and contributing towards the $400,000 price tag. The scheme was fully operational by September that same year, an amazing achievement.
We often do not question where our water comes from until is stops coming out of the tap. Schemes like this are small but essential for rural residences, business and livestock. They are often voluntarily maintained and privately funded.
To support Highbank Water Scheme’s 20th Anniversary, a history of the project has been created and printed. Ian said, “We wanted to get some memories down, its amazing how quickly the time has passed.”
Invitations to the celebration evening have been sent out, RSVP’s to be made by 30th September for catering purposes.
Colin said, “It would be great to see everyone there.”