Irrigation New Zealand

Gavin Dann’s contribution to Central Otago has been recognised with an award for outstanding leadership in Irrigation. Gavin is one of two recipients of the 2018 Ron Cocks Award from IrrigationNZ which acknowledges the leadership he has provided to the Last Chance Irrigation Company and his work to establish a safe drinking water supply.

“Gavin has contributed his time to supporting a community irrigation scheme for over 40 years. He has demonstrated a high degree of innovation, perseverance and intelligence in resolving complex issues and the company and local community has benefitted from his strong interpersonal skills as he seeks to find solutions which meet everyone’s needs,” says Nicky Hyslop, IrrigationNZ Chair.

The Last Chance Irrigation Company uses snow melt from the Old Man Range for irrigation. Water is delivered to farms north of the range through a water race network originally built in gold mining days and through natural creeks. Two concrete arch dams were built during the depression which are used to store water – Conroys Dam and Butchers Dam.

The water race and creek irrigation network was managed by the government as five separate networks named as ‘Last Chance’ after a nineteenth century goldmining venture at Fruitlands which created the water race network used by irrigatorsuntil the 1980s when it was sold back to farmers and the Last Chance Irrigation Company was formed. The company brought five sections into one company, with around 100 shareholders.

At the time the company was formed in around 1990, Gavin was the Chairman of the Conroys Section Committee and managed that section’s scheme operations and maintenance, in conjunction with several others. Gavin was a science/biology teacher and became the Deputy Principal of Dunstan High School. He lives on a lifestyle block which is supplied with water from Wrights Race and Conroys Dam.

Gavin was a valuable member of the original Last Chance Irrigation group which undertook negotiations with the Crown for the purchase and settlement of the scheme. He was elected to the Last Chance Irrigation Company Board in 1997, and was elected Chairman of the Board from 2007 until his retirement in 2011. The Last Chance Irrigation Company serves orchardists, sheep, deer and beef farmers. As he didn’t have a vested interest in any one sector Gavin was seen as an independent figure.

“Gavin has been the driving force behind a number of initiatives to improve the Last Chance Irrigation Company’s operations,” says Nicky Hyslop.

An idea he came up with and pursued with a fellow irrigator was to retake run-off flood irrigation water from Butchers Dam irrigators and pipe it through a hill and across a valley to the lower Conroys catchment to supplement their supply. He successfully negotiated to have the Crown fund this ‘Link Race’ pipe as part of the Last Chance Company settlement. Gavin also promoted and arranged the construction of a storage dam to feed water to this Link Race. This helps maintain more constant flows to irrigators and has proved invaluable over the past summer’s drought.

Gavin has also supported the introduction of telemetry to measure and monitor flows, and installed the first three prototype measuring devices with fellow Company Directors in high altitude races on the Old Man Range. He also helped improve the scheme’s administration and operation systems, and worked to prepare resource consent applications and replace water permits.

Historically scheme members had used irrigation water for their drinking water. Gavin led a project to find a safe alternative drinking water source. Easements had to be created so that a bore could be developed and water delivered to properties. This water supply serves around 60 households.

Gavin has been managing the operation of this community water supply since it was established in 1990. He also prepared a Water Safety Management Plan for the community scheme. His work has saved a considerable amount in consultant’s fees. The scheme is fully compliant with the New Zealand Drinking Water Standards. The Last Chance Community Drinking Water Scheme was recently made a standalone incorporated society, with Gavin driving this process. The drinking water scheme has state of the art telemetry and metering, no debt and over $100,000 in the bank as a result of Gavin’s leadership.

In receiving his award, Gavin acknowledged the significant role “two extraordinary women” had played in supporting the Last Chance Irrigation Company. Gavin’s wife Cathy Dann was the first secretary of the Last Chance Irrigation Company as well as the inaugural secretary of the Earnscleugh Irrigation Company , and has also served as the secretary and Financial Officer of the Last Chance Community Drinking Water Scheme for the last 25 years. Mrs Allison Sutton had served as the Secretary and Financial Officer of the Last Chance Irrigation Company for the last 25 years and had served for even longer as the Secretary and Financial Officer of the Manuherikia Irrigation Society.