Most of the large lakes in the south of the South Island occupy depressions formed by glaciers. Most glaciers pile up a belt of rock debris in front of them (called a terminal moraine), and this often acted as a dam, holding a lake in a depression that had previously been filled with ice. In some areas, control structures have been built on the terminal moraines so that lake water can be used to generate hydroelectricity. Lakes Benmore and Aviemore, also used for electricity generation, are reservoirs behind man-made dams.
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Source: GNS Science