27 Dec 2018

November flood aftermath lingers for Otago farms and businesses

3:31 pm on 27 December 2018

Farmers and business owners in Otago are still picking up the pieces after November's floods.

Sewage in the Tap and Dough Bistro in Middlemarch, central Otago.

The Tap and Dough Bistro in Middlemarch was hard hit by the flooding. Photo: SUPPLIED

Widespread flooding in the region inundated farmland near the Taieri and Waipori Rivers, and caused issues for Middlemarch, Henley and communities in the Clutha district.

The downpours came during the one of the wettest Novembers on record.

The effects are still being felt particularly hard by the Tap and Dough Bistro in Middlemarch which had sewage knee deep flow through the restaurant during the deluge.

The business had been open just a week when the floods occurred.

Owner Norma Emerson said the restaurant would probably remain closed until February.

"All the floor's had to come out and be redone, all the wall panelling has had to come off so the contaminated pink batts could be removed, all the carpet and tiling - everything. Even the outside panels had to be taken off to check for contamination," she said.

"That's just the building. Most of my equipment has been damaged. It's extensively damaged.

"I don't think we will be open until February.

"The busiest time actually started in December. December and January are busy months for rail trailers because Middlemarch is the start or the end of the rail trail, so that's all business we miss out on."

Despite the huge setback she and her husband, brewer Richard Emerson, remained committed to reopening.

"We've put so much energy into starting something and nine days later it closes down you feel you have to. When you have invested so much time, and money, and energy you can't just give it up.

"We're going to take a huge loss financially, we've taken a huge emotional loss but . . . in the end the reasons we wanted to open this place here are still the same so we will keep doing it."

She believes the Dunedin City Council needs to do something to protect the town's sewerage system against future flooding events.

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Flooding in November Photo: RNZ

Farmers on Otago's Taieri Plain are still feeling the pinch as well.

James Adam said feed supplies and milk production had taken a hit as a result of the floods.

"There are some doing it quite tough. Not only are they short of feed, but everyone has lame cows from having wet feet for so long. It all compounds," he said.

"This time of year we are trying to get cows in calf for next season and if they're doing it tough they are harder to get in calf.

"We were about 100kg a day ahead and now we've gone to 200kg of milk solids a day behind, so the peak is well and truly gone.

"When they should be getting grass 24/7, they're getting grass for 12 hours with once a day milking."

The floodwater had killed a substantial proportion of his grass and he was going to have to re-sow 85ha out of 194ha of farmland.

"It's just farming I guess. People say whinging farmers - well you've got to take the good with the bad because when the going gets tough the tough get going."

He was not alone in his plight, as baleage was destroyed by the storm and many hectares left flooded for weeks.

Farmers in the area have one eye to the sky as a run of dry weather now would only compound their difficulties.

Rising floodwaters threaten Henley.

Rising river levels threaten Henley in November's floods. Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

In Henley, a community which was left cut off for days by November's floodwaters, there attitude of resilience was also on display.

The community had flooded seven times in the past 14 years before November's rain hit, and a local resident spoken to by RNZ said they were just getting on with life.

"I think generally the regional council is behind the community, and so is the Dunedin City Council for that matter," the resident, who did not want to be named, said.

Otago Regional Council seemed to be taking action to mitigate the effects of flooding, but there needed to be better drainage, he said.

"It's more to do with getting rid of the water at the end of it. We've got flood banks here and the water gets trapped behind the flood banks so the river can go down, but there can still be water around the buildings and community. Sometimes it can be three or four days that the water actually goes down even though it goes down in the river. That's the main issue.

"But there has been discussion with the regional council, there's a wee group here in Henley that have been working with them and they seem to be making some progress. There's a lot more action around here than there has been in the past.

"The people who are here are going to stay here, they've been through this before."

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