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The Opihi River as a water source

Half of Timaru’s water supply, and 9 of 12 water schemes in the district are supplied with water from the Opihi River- a fact not many might know.

But for Timaru District Council water services operations engineer Judy Blakemore, knowing exactly what is going on in the water space has become the lifeblood of her job for more than a decade.

Judy’s role is managing the water takes, water treatment, pump stations and sewer pump stations and sewer discharge.

“My role is not dissimilar to the doctor's- keeping people healthy. Water quality certainly has a huge impact on people's health, hence why I'm so involved in some of the catchment groups.”

The Opihi River’s high quality water has made it the most ideal source of water in the district. The water is disinfected using UV, and in Timaru using ozone followed by chlorine. The district council works hard to ensure the drinking water standards are met.

“I think we're good at delivering reliable and safe water. But that means the community take it for granted and they don’t realise the importance and the processes that go into providing that,” Judy says.

When the Opihi River Regional Plan came into force in the early 2000s, it meant the council’s previously unrestricted water take, was now limited, and effluent discharge into the river was banned. As a result, the district council started discharging its effluent into the sea, and the reliability of its water now comes from its status as a shareholder in the Opuha Dam Company.

“Timaru is a city where if the industries don’t get water for a year or so, they just won't stay. So it's absolutely critical to us to have a reliable water supply.”

The past three years of drought threatened that supply, with the Opuha Dam getting very close to drying up.

“We were only taking one third of what we would normally take from it. It was so close to having no water left in Opuha Dam. The area would not have survived that drought as well as it did without the dam,” Judy says.

Community interest in water management

Collaboration has been key to dealing with water in recent years and Judy is excited by the level of community interest in water management.

“People have become a lot more aware and a lot more vocal- there is actually pressure coming on from the community to resolve issues. The work that the water zone committees is doing has meant there's more opportunity for people to input and to understand what's going on with water quality and what needs to happen."

So what would successful management of the Opihi River look like for Judy?

“True success would be us having a good supply of water and the water being safe for most uses. Success would be having good quality water in the river at all times. I think that would be success.”

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