We underestimate the Waikato. It is a third of the dairy industry in New Zealand. We have some of the best soils. All the arable land in the world is sediment from the rivers and glaciers. Much of the Lower Waikato was a flood plain. Historically, all this area used to flood, and it’s our most valuable agricultural land.
About 42,000 hectares falls under flood protection schemes in the Lower Waikato catchment, and this land contributes billions of dollars to the Waikato economy each year. That money gets recycled, and builds hospitals, schools, roads and community.
Our forebearers were incredibly visionary and built a sophisticated flood protection scheme for the greater Waikato. They built it to keep people safe and to keep our roads and railways working. But also to protect the land which could then be used for farming, cropping and vegetable production to feed our growing population and generate wealth for the region.
The infrastructure is now 60 years old and ageing. We’re getting a lot more flooding thanks to changing climate patterns, but this is made worse by urbanisation and population growth. We’ve got more tarseal roads, expressways, concreting and roofing, so lots of water is no longer going into the ground but being channelled straight into our rivers and streams. Flooding is a risk that we increasingly need to manage.
Here in the Tauhei catchment, we now get paddocks underwater for over a week. Sometimes that happens three to four times a year. And the rest of the land is sodden. The water kills everything: grass, crops. Production on my farm has dropped by 30 per cent because of the water damage. We have got to address this because it’s really hurting farmers in the pocket and ultimately the whole region suffers.
Money is the issue. All of these schemes were subsidised by the Government a long time ago and now they’re old. Who pays is a moral, economic and environmental dilemma and it’s a conversation we all need to have. The cost of doing this type of work has also increased because of RMA regulations, getting consents, and then there are health and safety requirements on top of all that. This means there’s less money actually going towards getting the work done. The easiest option is to raise the rates but we just can’t afford to pay; you’ll push the people off the land.
The next generation needs to value and treasure our water asset. Each night as you drive home you need to know the bridge hasn’t been washed away, the hydro dams are working and you can turn lights on to wash your teeth with clean fresh water.
Lower Waikato Zone
Constructed between 1961 and 1982.
Protects Huntly, Rangiriri, 42,000ha of farmland, state highways and the main trunk.
Replacement cost of about $169m.
Includes 250km of stopbanks, 279 floodgates and 64 pump stations.
Flooding in a paddock in the Tauhei catchment.
"We’re getting a lot more flooding thanks to changing climate patterns, but this is made worse by urbanisation and population growth."
Kahikatea trees, remnants of a flood plain.