The scheme designed to stop floodwaters inundating a top Northland dairy production area is central to a new book by local writer and retired dairy farmer Diana Menefy.
Nothing Stops the Floods is a history of the Hikurangi Swamp and the big weather events that affect the people who live in the Hukerenui district.
It came about following an exhibition of the same topic which has been running since December 2020 at the Jack Morgan Museum on State Highway 1.
"The guys at the museum on the committee wanted an exhibition done on the swamp scheme and how it affected the Hukerenui district," Menefy said.
"When they suggested it, I thought that'd be a difficult one because it's a basic history moving on. But if you add the drama of the big floods which the scheme doesn't cope with, it makes it a far more interesting topic."
The exhibition which inspired Nothing Stops the Floods was put together by Menefy and the "Wednesday ladies", a group of local women who volunteer at the museum on Wednesdays.
The group did extensive research, tracking people down and interviewing them, and scouring old copies of the Northern Advocate.
Later, the content formed the basis of Menefy's book.
"It was a team effort," she said.
Menefy has written over a dozen works of fiction and non-fiction for children and adults including Kamo: The Story of a Village and Whangarei Hospital: A Century of Service 1901-2001.
Her latest book was meant to be released in December 2021 but she was stuck in Auckland until February due to Covid-19 delays.
It was launched at the Jack Morgan Museum on April 24.
The Hikurangi Swamp Scheme is a flood protection and land drainage project lying to the north-west of Whangārei which receives water from a catchment of 55,000ha, draining to 5600ha of lowland farms.
The scheme manages flooding in what was once one of the Southern Hemisphere's largest wetlands, after it was drained from 1919 to enable farmers to milk thousands of cows on what is highly productive farmland and a major economic producer.
Initial swamp draining started in 1919, continuing until the 1930s. Whangārei District Council took over responsibility for the scheme's management in 1953.
The current scheme, which consists of drainage networks, stopbanks and pump stations, was constructed between 1969 and 1977, aiming to provide 1:5 year flood protection for farmers.
The book follows the history from the first mention of the plan to 2021, when it was finally paid off and environmental issues became more important.
It gives a brief look at the reasoning behind the scheme, the huge commitments that were made by the landowners at the time, and the frustrations felt when the big weather events trap water on farms for weeks on end.
It has taken 52 years for the swamp debt to be paid off, but there are still ongoing costs of swamp rates, management costs for maintenance and electricity, Menefy said.
"The flood scheme actually works really well 90 per cent of the time.
"The big floods that we've had over the 52 years it has been working, there's been seven really big weather events that have flooded the farms.
"The actual flood scheme, if it's a normal flood, is working how it was designed to work."
Hikurangi Swamp produces more than $31 million of milk annually and is one of Northland's top dairy production areas. Its 15,000 dairy cows produce about 4.5 million kilograms of milk solids each year on roughly 100 farms.
Menefy, a retired dairy farmer who lives in Tapuhi, said: "The land is really productive when it's not under water".
In 1974 when she and her husband first moved there, there were nine floods.
"That year was really tough," she said.
"After the scheme we don't get many.
"We still get hit, but now give it about four to five hours and the water goes.
"But the huge floods that the scheme was not designed to handle will always happen.
"They are weather patterns and out of everyone's control."
Nothing Stops the Floods is a fundraiser for the Jack Morgan Museum.
Copies cost $30 and can be bought from the Jack Morgan Museum, the Hikurangi Historical Museum, Hikurangi Friendship House and Whakapara village market.
The exhibition will run until the end of this year.