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I’ve been farming here near Rangiriri for 30 odd years. On this side of the river, the stopbank goes all the way to Huntly. The stopbanks have created a lot of productive farmland. Economical farming is important – it was uncontrolled flooding before the stopbanks were put in.

They were diverting the Whanganui River into the Tongariro River, into the Waikato catchment. That was the driver for putting the stopbanks in. There would be more water. The government paid a good portion for the work.

We lease the land that the stopbanks are on, that’s pretty typical. We have maybe close to four kilometres of stopbank. The only thing holding them together is grass. There are conditions that come with them. We are not allowed to damage them.

You can’t crop them. When you crop you have a pile of topsoil there and the stopbank will erode, water will come through. No trees. The problem with trees is the roots go right through the stopbank, so when there is a flood the water tracks through. And if the tree dies the roots rot and creates pipes through the stopbank. Bulls dig holes in them. We graze ours. Cows and calves.

If we abused it, that would affect everyone from here back to Huntly. The biggest thing is State Highway 1 right through here is protected, the main trunk line is protected. People can go to school every day. To Countdown every day. So the stopbanks create community. Everyone has a vested interest.

Ninety-nine per cent of people do the right thing, but you only need one breach. As land changes hands, people forget or don’t know what they are and they do abuse the banks. I’ve seen builders try run pipes through a stopbank. We need to get the message through. It’s a funny shaped hill but it’s designed to protect us, and it won’t protect us forever. And it won’t protect us if you mess with it.

We had a 100 year flood in 1998, and the stopbank worked very well apart from a few weak spots between Huntly and here, which have since been repaired. It was a prolonged flood. But the biggest thing people forget is it’s designed for a 100 year flood, so if you have a 150 year flood you have a problem.

Walking along a stopbank

 

"It’s a funny shaped hill but it’s designed to protect us, and it won’t protect us forever. And it won’t protect us if you mess with it."

 

Aerial of the flood of 8 August 2008

The stopbanks along the Waikato River don’t just help farmers, they protect the state highway and the main trunk.