The Whangārei District Council admits Hikurangi swamp farmers were not consulted regarding a decision to keep flooding drainage pumps switched off, which has financially threatened farmers.
On Monday, WDC waste and drainage manager Simon Charles fronted up to a group of roughly 10 farmers, alongside local hapū members, at the Ngāraratunua pump station - one of seven which comprise the Hikurangi Flood Management Scheme.
The scheme was constructed in the early 1970s to control floodwaters that regularly flooded farmland within the Hikurangi Valley.
While the pumps remained off for most of the year, the pumps were switched on manually when flooding was likely to occur and then operated on an automatic setting to ensure the pumps didn't continue working once the necessary water had drained.
According to NIWA, 107 millimetres fell on Sunday - the fourth-highest daily rainfall for May for the area since records began in 1943.
Charles said a request to delay turning the pumps on was submitted by hapū during the nationwide lockdown, which was then approved by the waste and drainage department, of which Charles is the head.
The reason for the request was ecological - primarily to save tuna whakaeke (eels), which could die going through the pumps.
Charles said the request followed discussions with iwi in August last year, at which iwi expressed their desire to delay turning on the pumps during the first big rain event of this year, when tuna are said to migrate.
However, Charles admitted the swamp farmers - who pay targeted rates for the scheme - weren't consulted at either stage.
"They should have been included in the discussions, yes," Charles said.
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In a statement on Tuesday, Charles attributed the lack of consultation to the lockdown, which he said made communication "patchy", and that a meeting to discuss the issue during that time was cancelled.
"Unfortunately, good communication can be difficult at the best of times," he said.
"The drought has made the situation worse for all interested in the health of the scheme, the farms and the eels, and less than perfect communications during the Covid-19 period have not helped."
Once farmers were alerted to the pumps' inactivity on Monday morning, the meeting was convened and the pumps were turned on at about midday.
Geoff Crawford, who farms about 450 hectares of the swamp, said farmers had been "let down" by the council making a decision which would potentially hurt farmers financially.
"We were oblivious to it," Crawford said on Monday.
"We are supposed to be in a partnership together. It just breaks the trust and we don't want to be like that, we want to be working together."
Crawford explained that, when the pumps were off, any surface water would damage pasture if it was left for a number of days - potentially killing new grass which had been planted.
Speaking to the Northern Advocate on Tuesday, Crawford said the pumps being turned on had made a big difference to the level of surface water.
"If the pumps had been on from the start, we wouldn't have had an issue, it definitely moved a lot of water."
However, Crawford warned the financial consequences would have been dire had more rain fallen.
"Anything close to 200mm of rain, I just know personally that costs me about $50,000-$80,000, depending on the area, if the water isn't drained."
Crawford emphasised he felt no animosity towards hapū regarding Monday's incident and expressed his interest in seeing the tuna population flourish.
With Northland still gripped by drought, Crawford said the incident would only add to farmers' anxiety.
Neville Thorne, who had farmed the area for more than 40 years, said he wanted better from the council and for it to allow more consultation with farmers, who paid for the scheme through their rates.
Phillip Hindrup, who farms about 800ha of the swamp, said it was fortunate the flooding occurred later in the year when it was cooler, slowing the deadly effect on pasture covered by water.
WDC councillor Greg Martin, who farms about 200ha of the swamp, said the longer the water covered new grass in particular, the higher the cost.
When turned on, the pumps at the Ngāraratunua station drained flooded farmland and dispensed the water into the bordering Mangahahoru stream, which drained into the Wairua River.
Ngāti Kahu o Torongare hapū member Chantez Connor-Kingi said the pump scheme needed changing as she believed tuna died as they went through the pumps.
Connor-Kingi accepted there was no animosity between farmers and hapū, acknowledging the collaborative work done between both groups for the past three to four years.
As an application to the Provincial Growth Fund regarding this issue was denied last year, Connor-Kingi said she wanted financial assistance from local councils to adjust the scheme to suit both hapū and farmers.
Environmental River Patrol kaitiaki Millan Ruka said he wanted more action from the council to satisfy the ecological concerns of hapū and the financial concerns of farmers.
Charles said a meeting between the interested parties could occur in the next couple of weeks.