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.

Media Releases

NZ Dam Safety Depends on 'Blind Faith' 
04 August 2010

The Clutha River Forum, an alliance of environmental groups opposed to further dams on the Clutha River, is concerned that New Zealand’s long-awaited Dam Safety Scheme has been deferred.

The scheme was due to come into effect on 1 July 2010, but the Minister of Building and Construction, Maurice Williamson, says it will be delayed for two years following a report earlier this year which found that the scheme imposed rules and compliance costs on dam owners ‘out of proportion to the risks’ imposed on New Zealanders.

“Unlike most other developed countries, New Zealand does not have a ‘Dam Safety Authority’, says Lewis Verduyn, Forum Spokesperson, and Chairperson of the Clutha Mata-Au River Parkway Group. “Thousands of people live and work in the hazard paths of dams, and yet dam safety in New Zealand depends on the public having blind faith in dam owners.”

The report, which was released by the Department of Building and Housing, recommends a number of changes to the scheme, which would regulate the safety of an estimated 1150 dams. But the Clutha River Forum believes that some critical issues have not been addressed.

“The report doesn’t acknowledge that overtopping events are a leading cause of dam failures,” says Dr. Richard Kohler, Chairperson of the Central Otago Environmental Society. “When it comes to dam safety, reservoir-related risks such as landslide areas and active fault-lines are just as important as the dams themselves. Rainfall and earthquakes can trigger catastrophic landslides and overtopping waves, and sediment-filled reservoirs can cause devastating floods. Both Clutha dams have reservoir risk factors, however the report recommends that all reference to ‘earthquake-prone and flood-prone dams’ be removed from the Act.”

There are two large concrete dams on the Clutha River. The Roxburgh dam was commissioned in 1956, and has been blamed for serious floods in Alexandra because of reservoir sedimentation. It was re-consented in 2007 for a further 35 years. The Clyde dam was commissioned in 1992 after years of controversy arising from complex fault-line and landslide mitigation issues.

Mr. Verduyn says “Although the review acknowledges that dams degrade over time, there is no mention of criteria to establish when and how dams and reservoirs are decommissioned, when the risks they impose become unacceptable and cannot be fully mitigated. Large concrete dams have a design life of 80-100yrs, but reservoirs trap sediment from eroding catchments, usually reducing this lifespan. Dams older than 50 years with known issues, like the Roxburgh dam, should have decommissioning timetables. Forward planning is needed because the impacts and costs are substantial.”

According to a report by SPX Consultants, ‘Reversibility of Renewable Energy Developments’, released in 2008, decommissioning and river restoration costs for a large dam, as a proportion of construction costs, are between 35% and 150%.

Last year, Contact Energy, the owner of the Clutha dams, dusted off historic plans for four more large dams on the Clutha River.

“The Clutha River Forum,” says Lewis Verduyn, “is firmly opposed to further dams on the Clutha River. Large dams are a gamble and it’s time that we recognised the serious risks that they impose on communities. New Zealand needs a credible ‘Dam Safety Authority’ that can enforce safety baselines and hold dam owners accountable for the impacts of their dams.”

Clutha Groups - Hayes Ruling ‘Common Sense’
11 November 2009

Groups opposed to further large dams on the Clutha River have praised the Environment Court’s decision declining Meridian’s consents for a $2 billion wind farm on the Lammermoor Range.

Members of the Clutha River Forum, an alliance of community and conservation groups, believe that the ruling, released last Friday, represents “common sense.”

The Chairperson of the Beaumont Residents Group, Neville Hills, saw it as “Finally some common sense for New Zealand.”

“The court’s decision points in the right direction,” says Dr. Richard Kohler, Chairperson of the Central Otago Environmental Society. “This decision is a milestone towards a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future.”

“Common sense should have prevailed from the outset,” said Leigh Morris, Spokesperson for the Lower Clutha River Guardians. “It was obvious that the effects of such a wind farm were never going to be minor.”

In October, the Clutha River Forum launched an ‘Option 5 – No More Dams’ campaign, a reference to Contact Energy’s four dam options for the Clutha River, at Luggate, Queensberry, Beaumont and Tuapeka Mouth.

“The Lower Clutha River Guardians can fully appreciate the high level of stress that Project Hayes has caused to those involved,” said Leigh Morris, yesterday. “We hope that the people of Beaumont can also look forward to a day when they, too, can celebrate the feeling of freedom from a large company seeking to make a profit at the expense of their environment.”

Forum members were critical of past decision-making, recalling the Clyde dam episode. They said that power companies have long regarded the South Island as an endless resource to be exploited, despite the infrastructural costs of sending the power north, and the destruction of prized Southern environments.

Contact Energy is the next in line, with their decision on a preferred option expected within months.

“‘Think Big’ is dying here,” says Lewis Verduyn, Chairperson of the Clutha Mata-Au River Parkway Group. “It has raised its head too often. We have learned that the price is too high. There is a strong economic argument for us to protect our most valued landscapes, and there’s a poor argument to destroy them in order to satisfy the energy demands of the north.”

“Renewable energy production should be located closer to the end user,” says Tim Ryan, Chairperson of the Upper Clutha River Guardians. “The Otago region already has its fair share of power stations.”

The Environment Court drew attention to Meridian’s lack of information on alternatives.

The Clutha River Forum believes that New Zealand is not short of “sensible energy options,” including “offshore wind farms that are closer to the demand than Central Otago, and the immense potential of Cook Strait tidal power now being developed by Neptune Power.”

The Hayes decision,” says Lewis Verduyn, “has not only lifted the consenting bar, it has lifted the spirits of those who cherish this landscape.”

“Now that the clouds of uncertainty have been blown away, the Lammermoor Range will look even better,” said Leigh Morris. “We are thankful for the hard work and effort put in by those who fought against its desecration.”

Clutha Forum Launches ‘Option 5’ Campaign 
16 October 2009

Proposed dams on the Clutha River now face concerted opposition from several community and conservation groups who have formed a united Clutha River Forum. At a recent meeting in Alexandra, groups dedicated to saving the unique values of the region, resolved to work together to prevent further “Think Big” dams on the Clutha River.

The new forum has considered Contact Energy’s four dam options, and unanimously supports ‘Option 5 – no more dams’.

The forum also has support from the International Rivers organization. “International Rivers supports the global movement for free-flowing rivers and the rights of riverine communities,” said Aviva Imhof, Campaigns Director, in an email message to the forum. “We support your efforts to save the Clutha River from future dam construction and to protect this majestic river for future generations. You are not alone, as literally millions of dam-affected people around the world are fighting for the same goals - to protect their rivers and their rights."

Members of the Clutha River Forum include the Upper Clutha River Guardians, the Clutha Mata-Au River Parkway Group, the Central Otago Environmental Society, Save Central, the Beaumont Residents’ Group, the Lower Clutha River Guardians, and Forest and Bird - Dunedin Branch.

“The energy question concerns all New Zealanders,” said forum spokesperson, Lewis Verduyn. “This issue must be presented in the wider context of energy problems and solutions. Poorly informed people cannot make informed decisions.”

The forum believes that the public has been misled, citing a public misconception that soaring power prices can only be addressed by building new generation, when “history shows that the consumer is likely to fund this additional generation through higher power prices.”

Members said that the New Zealand energy sector is structured to encourage profiteering from electricity generation, which reduces the producer’s incentive to invest in energy conservation. “Customers have a cost incentive to save energy, but producers have a profit incentive to sell more.”

Past restructuring of the energy sector has failed to deliver efficiencies. Instead, energy companies have manipulated the supply and demand equation to reap enormous profits. This problem can only be addressed by restructuring the energy sector to incentivize energy conservation at every stage of electricity production, management, and distribution.

“This is part of a much wider problem,” says Lewis Verduyn. “As a society we are engaged in the unsustainable pursuit of growth without a proper environmental accounting process. That’s why all our so-called resources, and our rivers, are in terminal decline. Change will be difficult because our decision-makers, in politics and business, are accustomed to the existing failing paradigms of economics and governance. In terms of energy, we need to plan for our future now, by maximizing what we have, and by choosing the most sustainable long-term generation options.”

Forum members agreed that energy efficiency measures can significantly reduce or negate the need for new generation capacity. In most cases, these demand reductions can be achieved at less cost than constructing new generation.

At the same time there is a need for New Zealand to move away from unsustainable generation using oil, coal, gas fired power stations and large-scale hydro. The group regards Contact Energy’s claim that more Clutha dams are among our “best renewable” options, as “old strategies dressed in green-washed language.”

“There is a myth that large hydro is clean, green and renewable,” says Lewis Verduyn. “Large concrete gravity dams have a full life carbon footprint that is 2 to 6 times larger than an average wind farm (another poor option), and as we’ve seen on the Clutha, large dams cause serious environmental and community impacts, submerge productive land, and impose long-term costs, risks and liabilities relating to reservoir sedimentation, floods, instability and decommissioning that are highly problematic.”

Because of problems with large dams (over 10 MW) they are no longer defined as a “renewable” energy by many organizations including the World Wildlife Fund. More than 260 organisations have signed the International Rivers declaration to exclude large hydro, over 10 MW, from renewable energy initiatives in the carbon offset market.

Lewis Verduyn said “There is no place for more large dams in New Zealand, because they cannot provide a sustainable, reliable and expandable energy solution. If energy demand grows by as much as 2.5% annually as predicted we would need the equivalent of one Luggate dam (86 MW) every 6 months, or one Tuapeka dam (350 MW) every 25 months, or another Clyde dam (432 MW) every 29 months. This is obviously unsustainable. We are running out of rivers. Clearly a long-term solution is needed.”

Members of the forum identified the Cook Strait tidal power option as the single largest and most promising “new” renewable energy available to New Zealand, capable of providing more than 17000 MW. It has a guaranteed weather-independent output, a relatively low material cost, and the lowest carbon footprint of any form of generation in New Zealand. The forum believes that this innovative underwater technology, which is being developed by Neptune Power, offers substantial opportunities for New Zealand in a quickly changing world.

Nationwide, a range of initiatives are urgently needed to improve energy efficiency, reduce systemic waste in the energy sector, promote local generation and new renewables, and to develop lasting energy solutions.

The forum has embarked on an ‘Option 5 – No More Dams’ campaign.

International Rivers' Statement

International Rivers' mission is to protect rivers and defend the rights of communities that depend on them. We oppose destructive dams and the development model they advance, and encourage better ways of meeting people’s needs for water, energy and protection from damaging floods. To achieve this mission, we collaborate with a global network of local communities, social movements, non-governmental organizations and other partners.

The large dams proposed by Contact Energy for New Zealand’s Clutha River are unacceptable and unnecessary development options.

World-wide, large hydro dams have devastated river ecosystems and the livelihoods of communities that depend on them. Dam projects are often more harmful than alternative forms of renewable generation, especially when placed across the main artery of a river. Having existing dams on a river, is not in itself justification for further dams, as problems are typically magnified as more large dams are added to a river system, resulting in an increased and cumulative loss of natural resources, habitat quality, environmental sustainability and ecosystem integrity.

Some of the worst impacts of global warming on both people and ecosystems will be felt on water and the hydrological cycle. Some areas will become much drier, some wetter. More extreme floods will threaten the safety of dams, and unprecedented droughts will drastically reduce the hydropower and water supply services that dams are built to provide. Minimizing the impacts of climate change will require moving away from a dependence on large dams for electricity generation and flood control.

The proposed dams at Tuapeka Mouth, Beaumont, Queensberry and Luggate are essentially ‘run of the river’ dams with minimal storage that would not contribute greatly to New Zealand’s energy security. New Zealand’s heavy dependence on hydropower, combined with climate change-induced water storage depletion during dry winters, and a complex distribution network spanning the length of the country, are obvious reasons to avoid compounding these issues with further large hydropower schemes.

It is vital to further diversify and decentralize the energy supply. New Zealand is fortunate to have a range of electricity generation options including wind, geothermal, and marine. These, combined with greater efficiencies in areas such as household insulation, have the potential to provide New Zealand with more than sufficient energy in the long-term.

New Zealand has the best wind energy resources in the world, and yet electricity generation from wind amounts to only 2.5% of installed capacity. By contrast, Denmark generates 20% of its electricity from wind, and Spain will generate 15% of its electricity from wind by 2010.

Marine generation also has the potential to be a major contributor of electricity in New Zealand. Cook Strait is an ideal location for marine generation and distribution. Neptune Energy has estimated that 7000MW could be generated in the Strait, which is almost equivalent to New Zealand’s total annual production.

International Rivers also works to address the legacies of existing projects, to improve development policies and practices, and promote water and energy solutions for a just and sustainable world. The Clutha River has proven to be a complex and challenging environment for dams, as evidenced by the serious siltation issues faced by the Roxburgh Dam, and the stability and seismic safety issues faced by the highly destructive and controversial Clyde Dam. There are serious concerns relating to the safety and sustainability of these existing dams.

Further, the long-term acquisition of some 4000 hectares of land for as yet unconfirmed projects has already had a significant negative impact on river communities by stifling local development.

The Clutha River has extraordinary natural, recreational, tourism and cultural values. The Clutha Mata-Au River Parkway Group and the Clutha Gold Trail Trust are two local groups working to protect and improve their river resource. These projects offer highly desirable outcomes from both an economic and an environmental perspective, locally and regionally. Authorities are urged to support local river communities in their river park and trail initiatives.

Forming another artificial lake in a region that already has several magnificent lakes, and removing a large wild river, where there are no other such rivers, is not a logical advantage for recreation and tourism. Free flowing rivers like the Clutha are scarce, and offer more recreational and tourism opportunities in their natural state, especially in the unique and spectacular environment that is Central Otago.

River-wrecking dams are the wrong choice for a warming world. There is no practical or ethical justification for further hydro dams on the famous Clutha River.


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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