Work on the controversial $100 million Waimea Dam project is underway.
TVNZ's 1 NEWS was at the Upper Lee Valley site in Tasman today as officials and invited guests took part in a ground-breaking ceremony.
A widened 6.5-kilometre access road up to the site has been cleared for machinery, which involved having to blast the corner of a hillside.
“The rock’s been pretty hard in places, which is a good sign,” says Waimea Water Ltd chief executive Mike Scott.
About 430,000 cubic metres of rock will be used to build the dam or be recycled on site.
Mr Scott says the Waimea Community Dam will be “New Zealand’s first large dam in over 20 years”. It will be approximately 53 metres high, 220 metres long and 6 metres wide at the crest. At times, there will be “more than a hundred” people working on the project.
The project has faced fierce opposition over rising costs to ratepayers and possible harm to the environment.
Tasman mayor Richard Kempthorne told 1 NEWS a secure water source was critical for the region.
“I think what we saw with the drought this summer is just an absolute clincher for why we need the dam," he explained.
Once it's constructed, he believes the “terrible” summer and consequential water restrictions will be “a thing of the past”.
Waimea Water Ltd is aiming to have the dam filled up by February 2022. It will hold around 13 million cubic metres of water.