2002 – Project Aqua – An Innovative Hydroelectric Scheme on the Lower Waitaki River, New Zealand

Tony McCormick, John Grimston, Robin Dawson

Project Aqua is a proposed hydroelectric and irrigation resource sharing development on the Lower Waitaki River in New Zealand’s South Island. The NZ $1 billion project aims to deliver approximately 540 MW peak power at an economically viable price, while minimising environmental and social impacts. Application of traditional hydro concepts in historical studies for the same reach has not provided an economic solution. The current proposal challenges conventional thinking in many areas with innovative concepts allowing a significantly lower cost while not sacrificing safety or flexibility.

Development of storage may involve high social and environmental impacts. No significant storage is needed for Project Aqua as the operation of existing upstream dams can be modified to provide for peaking demand and maintenance of minimum flows. The river intake offers innovative features with its very low profile structure. The concept allows a departure from the traditional barrage or dam diversion and maintains an open braid for jet boat and fish passage. This concept has proven to be a major feature in the overall project progression to the current stage.

The largest impact component of the scheme is the eight canals designed to carry 340 cumecs over 63 km through six power stations. Cuts and fills form the canals with locally derived materials used for the embankments and lining. Expensive lining has been minimised by balancing flow exchange with groundwater through the cut and fill sections.

Feasibility design has been completed and resource consents are currently being sought. This paper will cover the significant design features and impacts.

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