Until recently, New Zealand's spectacular Clutha River was threatened by four hydro dams proposed by Contact Energy, at Tuapeka Mouth, Beaumont, Queensberry and Luggate. This website remains active as a reminder that our New Zealand rivers are still not safe from commercial exploitation.

Clutha Hydro Timeline

• 1945. Beginning of investigations into large hydro-electric development on the Clutha River.
• 1948. Construction of the Roxburgh dam commenced.
• 1956. Roxburgh dam commissioned.
• 1959. Lake Hawea control dam commissioned.
• 1963. Extensive large hydro-dam investigations of the Clutha Basin from the lakes to the sea.
• 1965. First Meeting held with Beaumont residents regarding a Tuapeka dam.
• 1968. Commissioner of Works convenes an Interdepartmental Committee to investigate hydro-electric development and affects on the region. 30 proposals considered, 20 of these were costed.
• 1971. Interdepartmental Committee delivers a 165-page report to the Commissioner of Works, summarizing the effects of 6 proposals for hydro-electric development in the Upper Clutha Valley, and 4 proposals below Roxburgh. Options included both 'High' and 'Low' dams. Scheme 'A' was a 'High' dam at Lowburn with a 103.6m head which would submerge most of the Clutha Valley up to Luggate, Tarras and Albert Town, ponding water to Lake Wanaka but with Cromwell Borough unaffected. Scheme 'B' was a 'High' dam in the Cromwell Gorge with a 116.7m head which would flood the entire Upper Clutha Valley up to the level of Lake Wanaka; Cromwell, Lowburn, Luggate, Tarras and parts of Bannockburn and Albert Town would be submerged. Among other options was a dam at Clyde known as DG3, which would submerge sections of State Highway 8 in the Cromwell Gorge and most of the orchards, and UC9 which would flood the Lowburn Flats largely within the river channels.
• 1972. Liaison Committee was set up, comprising local authority and government representatives, disbanding in 1973.
• 1973. Lake Wanaka Preservation Act passed, after a long campaign by Hands Off Wanaka Lake (HOWL) to prevent a dam at the Lake Wanaka Outlet. The legislation includes protection of Lake Wanaka and the Clutha River to the Cardrona River confluence.
• 1973. Clutha Valley Development Commission established, required to report to the Ministry of Works and Development by 30 Sept. 1974. By agreement, submission date extended to 30 Nov. 1974. Commission studied a number of proposals.
• 1974, May. Clutha Valley Development Commission releases interim report, with recommended dam sites and water levels, collectively known as Scheme 'H', with a total installed capacity of 1003 MW, and a maximum peak capacity of 1490 MW.
• 1976. Construction on Clyde dam begins.
• 1980’s Electricity Corporation of NZ (ECNZ) uses Public Works Act to seize critical land needed for further hydro schemes at Tuapeka, Luggate and Queensberry. Owners receive low government valuations due to existing hydro uncertainty.
• 1982. Clyde dam workers discovered an active faultline directly under the dam and spillways, the ‘River Channel Fault’. The dam was subsequently re-designed to include a ‘slip-joint’ to accommodate lateral slip movement (sideways), however it was later revealed by DSIR geotechnical scientist Gerald Lensen that the fault was a tensional expansion fault (apart), rendering the slip-joint ineffective in a major quake.
• 1982. Landowners in the Cromwell Gorge and Lowburn appealed to the High Court citing that the Government did not have a legal Water Right, and won their case.
• 1982. The National Government, under Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, enacted the Clutha Development (Clyde Dam) Empowering Act 1982, controversially over-throwing the High Court decision and a subsequent Planning Tribunal decision against the Government (Annan v National Water and Soil Conservation Authority and Minister of Energy, Gilmore v National Water and Soil Conservation Authority and Minister of Energy), suspending the individual’s legal rights enshrined in Westminster law, and shocking New Zealanders.
• 1986. Artesian water was discovered in what was previously considered the dry landslides in the Cromwell Gorge, signaling serious issues with reservoir safety.
• 1989. An intense investigation began into landslide issues in the Cromwell Gorge involving an international team of up to 40 geologists.
• 1990. Serious gorge stabilization issues were admitted, and it was announced that the project could not be commissioned without another $337 million being spent on landslide mitigation to reduce, but not remove the risks.
• 1991. ECNZ announces Tuapeka dam is preferred option.
• 1992. Clyde dam commissioned.
• 1993. Clyde dam complete and reservoir filled.
• 1993. Tupeka dam investigation accelerates, and land purchases increase totaling $12 million.
• 1994. Dam opposition group Friends of Beaumont formed.
• 1995. ECNZ undertakes field investigations in the Upper Clutha as part of its ‘ongoing study’ into dam options, including the Luggate and Queensberry schemes.
• 1995. November. Contact Energy was incorporated on 8 November 1995 and became a state owned enterprise on 18 November 1995.
• 1996. Contact Energy  commenced operations on 1 February 1996, acquiring assets from Electricity Corporation of New Zealand with a payment of $1.6 billion.
• 1999. Contact Energy was sold in a public offering of shares, with 40% purchased by Edison Mission Energy (EME) as cornerstone shareholder. EME subsequently increased its shareholding to 51.2%. Contact Energy defers Tuapeka dam indefinitely, but refuses to sell back land.
• 2001. Birch Island gains protected status under the Conservation Act.
• 2004. Australian company Origin Energy acquires controlling 51.2% shareholding of Contact Energy from Edison Mission Energy (EME) for NZ$1,675 million or $5.67 per share.
• 2008. Contact Energy announces that it intends to re-visit previous dam plans.
• 2009, April. Contact Energy releases proposals for four dams.
• 2009. Dam opposition groups form at Beaumont and Wanaka. The Clutha River Forum emerges as a river-length alliance of river and conservations groups opposed to further 'think big' dams, campaigning for 'Option 5 - No More Dams.'
• 2012. Contact Energy annouces that all dam plans are on the 'back burner'.
• 2012, 1 May. Contant Energy formally withdraws all dam plans, and begins a review of the management and ownership of its land holdings near the river, covering some 4,400 hectares.


About This Site

'Save The Clutha' supports the 'Option 5 Campaign' launched by the Clutha River Forum, an alliance of river and conservation groups opposed to further "Think Big" dams on the Clutha River.

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