This is a good news planning story. It shows what visionary and determined leadership can achieve for an overall good community outcome. It beats being process-driven every time.
Kerikeri’s orchard industry had evolved rapidly after about 1930 by the pioneering efforts of the tiny population of the enterprising original “China Hands” (1945 population 570) reinforced after World War 2 by returned servicemen.
Although Kerikeri’s annual rainfall is (or was) about 1660mm, summer droughts were frequent and with unreliable water supply the orchardists were handicapped. After a severe drought from September 1946 to March 1947 Ken Proctor obtained a right to pump water from Wairoa Stream and was the first to install an electric pump (Kerikeri’s Library is named after the Proctors and was funded from their bequest). Severe water shortages were being experienced by existing landowners and expansion of a potentially multimillion-dollar industry was in jeopardy. There was open conflict over water use.
In the dry summer months of the 1960’s, water was consumed at such a rate that to avoid sucking the Wairoa Stream dry, Roger Davies, who had an orchard on Inlet Road, organised the half dozen orchardists along the stream at that time into a roster with times for using their pumps. In 1973 Roger Davies led the drive for a community irrigation scheme and petitioned the government. Roger had the leadership, personality, and political skills to obtain and retain government support for a very expensive project. The scheme also attracted some capable engineers. It involved the construction of two dams, the southern one close to the airport, now Lake Waingaro, and a northern one called Lake Manuwai. The dam sites were selected high in the catchment, principally to allow gravity to distribute irrigation water to the major part of the irrigable land. This has proved to be very sensible, with concerns today about emissions and climate change as well from avoiding the high capital and maintenance costs of operating pump stations over the past 40 years.
The scheme was opened in 1983 at a cost of $23M ($88M in 2022 dollars), giving Kerikeri new life and allowing further orchard development over a much wider area. Kerikeri’s rapid expansion can be dated from about this time. The irrigation system is still the driver of our horticultural production.
FNDC commissioned a report of January 1996 “Horticulture Soils, Economics and Opportunities for the Far North” which concluded that high value soils were less than 2% of the Far North District and should be preserved for these purposes. This has been widely ignored in Kerikeri planning but an attempt is being made to save what is left in the Proposed District Plan.