The new generation of farmers have never experienced flooding like they had in the old days. I’ve been farming here 60 odd years and never been flooded. When your schemes are successful people get complacent, “why are we having to pay all this money when we don’t have any troubles”. Because the systems are working well.
The reality is, without flood protection, you wouldn’t be farming or living on the Hauraki Plains. Most of the Piako flood scheme was built to protect the plains from the sea. The Hauraki Plains is the most intensely drained part of New Zealand. Without any protection, in the lower part of the plains, the water would return and it would be swamp again pretty quickly. State Highway 2 and 25 would not be passable without the flood schemes.
People say, how do we live here? Aren’t we worried about climate change? But it’s always been like this. We are dealing with it all the time, we just adapt as we go. The lowering land level, due to the drainage of peat, is part of the challenge going forward. Of course you need to be smart, too. People evacuated after flooding from the Piako River in 2017 were farming in a ponding zone, a high risk area that’s designed to take overtopping of the stopbanks.
Here, flooding happens slowly. We are on low and very flat land. Flooding is always an issue, and at the end of the day it is important our flood protection schemes are affordable. There’s always a possibility that whatever you build will be overtopped.
The cost of maintaining flood protection schemes has really gone up dramatically, driven by demands of government and other agencies, such as health and safety, and getting consents, compliance and building costs.
Here we have two major flood schemes, one for the Waihou and one for the Piako River. The two rivers are quite different. The Waihou River gets rain from the Kaimai Range, and Waihi basin, while the Piako is more sluggish, catches water from the flat land. The Waihou scheme is the Rolls Royce, it’s modern, designed very well and performs very well. The Piako scheme was upgraded in the 1960s. Both are complicated schemes and cost a lot to build and maintain. There’s a lot of asset renewal to be done on the Piako River. Analysing them, do we replace same with same or amalgamate assets together?
I think people struggle at times. Rates are based on benefit, so if you live by the sea you pay the highest rate, and the region pays a small percentage too. People don’t like rates going up. The Piako rates went up quite a bit this year. But you’d rather rates rising and flood protection that’s well managed than paying for the consequences. It’s about protection of life, property and income.
Waihou Piako Zone
Waihou flood scheme constructed in the 1980s and 1990s.
Piako flood scheme constructed in the 1960s and 1970s.
Includes some pre-scheme assets from the 1920s and 1930s.
Protects Te Aroha, Paeroa, Turua, Kopu, Ngātea, Thames, 250,000ha of farmland and state highways.
Replacement cost of about $372m.
Includes 357km of stopbanks and floodwalls, 139 floodgates and 52 pump stations.
Ngātea and the surrounding area on the Piako River is vulnerable to flooding.
"When your schemes are successful, people get complacent. ‘Why are we having to pay all this money when we don’t have any troubles?’ Because the systems are working well."
Last year, a sheet piled floodwall was installed along a 70-metre stretch of stopbank adjacent to Ngātea. The stopbank was cracking and slumping so the wall was put in to ensure continued protection of the town.