Gap in stopbank big saver, says farmer

By Mike Barrington

Evan Smeath surveys the stopbank in Hikurangi swamp. Photo/Tania Newman
Evan Smeath surveys the stopbank in Hikurangi swamp. Photo/Tania Newman

Hikurangi Swamp farmer Evan Smeath is unrepentant about digging through a swamp drainage-scheme stopbank to allow flood water on his and neighbouring farms to drain into the Wairua River.

He praises the 40-year-old drainage scheme, with its stopbanks confining flood waters to waterways in the 5000ha swamp.

During extreme weather events such as Northland has experienced twice this winter, flooded rivers overflow into farm pockets, cleared by pumps once river levels fall.

"The drainage scheme is brilliant. When it was first put in it performed as it was designed to do," Mr Smeath said yesterday. "But major developments upstream have brought in more water and the scheme now needs major adjustment to get it back on track."

Once rivers drop below the level in flooded paddocks, swamp farmers say the water could be released from their land faster than through pumping.

Mr Smeath and four neighbours believe breaching a stopbank gives them a $1500 a hectare saving on the cost of lost production, regrassing and other flooding expenses.

He had 60ha under water at his 190ha farm near Hukerenui and since digging through a stopbank on Monday he'd saved "quite a few hectares" of grass.

Once water had stopped flowing from his land into the river, he said he would fill in thegap in the stopbank.

"We didn't do this willy-nilly," he said. "We used scheme monitors to ensure river flows were not affected and there was no effect downstream."

The Northland Regional Council (NRC) had allowed farmers to cut stopbanks to clear water from flooded paddocks after extreme flooding in 2011, but the Whangarei District Council (WDC), which holds the resource consent for the drainage scheme, had not allowed it this winter.

"We have tried to work with the WDC. We're not rebels - we're disobeying the council for the right reasons," Mr Smeath said.

The $24,000 targeted rate paid for his 190ha farm had risen 25 per cent annually over the past three years and 10 per cent annual increases until at least 2022 were expected.

NRC consents and monitoring senior programme manager Colin Dall said abatement and infringement notices had been issued to a swamp farmer who had allegedly cut a stopbank earlier. The infringement could bring a fine of up to $1000.

- Northern Advocate

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