I was a cocky like everyone else – aware of the stopbanks but never really aware. I guess you take them for granted.
Our home farm was in Kerepēhi. It backed onto the northeastern corner of the Kopuatai Peat Dome. Our runoff was 3.5 kilometres down the road. We used it for dairy support, grew maize on it and wintered some of our herd on it. The stopbank between the runoff and the peat dome had slumped in certain places. In the floods of 2017, the water overtopped in these lower parts of the stopbank. This basically turned our 55 hectares of runoff into a 45 hectare lake for three weeks.
When it was happening, it was so disbelieving. This can’t be happening! We were trying to sandbag it and it was a futile attempt. You would not believe how much water comes over in a 24 hour period. It’s just incredible. We had maize in, about 10 days from harvest, and the water level reached just centimetres from the cobs. After three weeks underwater, all the pasture died and the rotting vegetation really stunk.
The guys at regional council worked their butts off trying to help where they could. They brought in pumps to help try shift water in the worst areas, but they were stretched with the demand from the Edgecumbe flood disaster. It was quite stressful for everyone involved. Cockies are generally can-do sort of people, but when the situation is out of your control and you can’t change the outcome, that is really hard to deal with.
There were three or four farms directly affected but I feel we were the worst hit. We did a rough order costing and it would have been $125,000 to $150,000, taking into account regrassing, contractors, lost crop, lost production and sourcing winter grazing at short notice.
Every cloud has a silver lining, don’t they say, and for us I guess that was learning the importance of our drainage and flood protection assets and why they are there. And that it’s really bloody important they are maintained. The old timers that farmed on the Plains before the Waihou Piako schemes were built understood what flooding was all about and how the schemes made such a difference to their ability to farm. Our generation has never really experienced flooding like that and I guess we’ve all got a bit complacent, especially after a few dry seasons.
I am now a Hauraki District councillor and have a much broader knowledge of the flood protection and land drainage schemes. Land drainage is my portfolio. I now know how naïve I was about how our protection scheme and that flood drainage actually works. I’ve become very passionate about ensuring these assets are maintained to a very high level because the prosperity of the Hauraki Plains depends on that.
The floods of 2017 basically turned our 55 hectares of runoff into a 45 hectare lake for three weeks.
"After three weeks underwater, all the pasture died and the rotting vegetation really stunk."
What the land looked like after the flood.