15 Dec 2017

Inundated and Indisposed A Story of Flood Recovery: Part Two

From Country Life, 9:37 pm on 15 December 2017
Flood hit Galatea farmers

Flood hit Galatea farmers Photo: RNZ/Susan Murray

The flood waters which eventually hit the Bay of Plenty plains and township of Edgecumbe had first roared through the Galatea Valley near Murupara.

Farmland is still falling into the Rangitaiki River, some river flats still can't be grazed.

The local farmers say the problem is a hydro dam that's slowing the normal river flow so much that gravel deposits have lifted the river bed over three metres and it takes little rain for farmland to flood.

There's also a delta of raised land that stops the river flowing easily into Lake Aniwhenua.

Dairy farmer Steve Dallinger's property is just before the lake and he says his farm "acts as a storage facility for that dam unfortunately."

He says one of the hardest decisions he had to make during the flood was to send 70 lovely in-calf cows to the meat works to be killed because he didn't have enough time to find grazing for them. 

It would've taken several days to get them off and he'd have run out of feed, he says.

Shaun Healy farms across the river from Steve and he has 90 hectares of river flats, 16 hectares are still just swamp, growing cutty grass and sedge.

The water has no where to go because the river channel has changed so much. A hectare of Shaun's farm recently fell into the river and disappeared. He lost $30,000 in milk production because he had to send his herd away.

"I've never had to do that before.

"We knew when buying the farm that it's got river flats and it does flood, we don't have to deal with drought like other people do, but we're getting flooding for months (now) not weeks," he says.

Shaun Healy says the regional council never extracts gravel and the hydro dam owners have never been required to clean out the delta near the lake entrance.

But everyone needs to "stop finger pointing" and work out a plan they can all work with, because environmentally it's ruining the whole river structure, he says.

"We used to have trout spawning up the river here. We haven't seen trout spawn there for eight years and it's not through cleanliness.  We planted 14,000 natives, we fenced our waterways off 15 years ago. There are no issues with the quality of water. It's the water structure. It's so slow it's not flowing, the trout aren't spawning".

Shona Pederson, who farms on a tributary river, says they've recently had a meeting with the new hydro dam owners Southern Generation and she's hopeful it has taken landowners' concerns on board and will come back with a solution.

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council says it's trying to do repair  work across the whole catchment,  not soley highly populated areas, and just this week some work started re-aligning one of the rivers in Galatea.  

The council's Rivers and Drainage operations manager Bruce Crabbe agrees there are huge volumes of sediment in the Rangitaiki river.

He says they encourage commercial operators to take gravel out, but they need to have a use for it to make it viable.

He says while farmers would like to see council take gravel out, it comes back very quickly so it's  not an affordable or sustainable solution.

However Bruce Crabbe admits the lack of water flow near the dam is definitely an issue and they've contracted a firm to provide possible solutions.

The council is very aware landowners are suffering a lot so they're increasing their efforts around communication, he says.

 A newsletter should arrive before Christmas outlining when work is expected to start in the different areas.