Compensation, management concerns

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Dairy farmer Laurence Rooney, left, meets with agricultural minister Damien O'Connor during a farm visit last week.

Dairy farmer Laurence Rooney will likely be left with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of flood-damage on his Winchmore farm; it’s left a bad taste in his mouth.

He predicts after the half-a-million-dollar flood clean-up from the late-May flood will see him left with $1m loss of income and no chance of the compensation; government’s $4-million fund pays up to 50 percent of non-insured damage but only on productive land.

It is not the weather Mr Rooney is frustrated with, it is paying a river rate to Environment Canterbury for river management that he, and a growing number of others, said was not happening; it has been raised at many subsequent flood-affected farmer events.

The herd would have been better-off with Mycoplasma bovis, there would have been compensation, he said.

Mr Rooney and wife Philippa farm alongside the north branch of the Ashburton River.

Their farm took a hit when the river burst the river stopbank alongside their property in late-May. It breached the bank, flowed through their decade-old house – rendering them homeless – and towards land where cows grazed.

They were able to move them out of harm’s way. But it was a scary time.

The torrent of water flowed on to grassed paddocks and ripped apart fencing, laneways, and anything not tied down.

The motors on the centre pivot were buggered, he said.

Branches and rocks were strewn about from water which got up to around two-metres high at peak.

The Rooneys had a fleeting visit from agricultural minister Damien O’Connor and Rangitata MP Jo Luxton last week; Mr O’Connor’s first to the farm since the event.

It was a brief stop, but Mr Rooney was able to voice his concerns.

“The more people that see the cock-up (of a lack of river management) the better, he said afterwards. It was “preventable”.

A lot of work has been done in the past nine weeks by those on farm, those brought in, and with the added help of volunteers.

Environment Canterbury diggers were still working in the riverbed alongside the property.

The couple, and their four young children, had been back in the house for the past week. They moved in with some new furniture but no carpet, curtains, or septic system, which were due this week.

But being home was better than being away from the farm, Mrs Rooney said.

Areas of the farm which were once productive green lands now look like riverbeds, even with new fencing and laneways.

Silt covers the land.

The milking shed is still out of action but calving has started, so they have temporarily farmed cows out for milking. They hope to be milking in their own shed by the end of the week.

Numbers in the herd had been reduced with some leased out temporarily, and another 90 older cows sold to help reduce stock numbers on-farm.

The farm will be able to use 100 ha out of 170ha once the cows were back.

Environment Canterbury rivers manager Leigh Griffiths said ECan had a mandate to maintain flood protection assets for properties who formed a rating district.

It included protection works such as stopbanks, drains, groynes, spurs and other infrastructure such as plantings associated with river erosion, drainage and flood protection as well as ongoing maintenance.

“We are confident that our flood protection infrastructure did its job based on (agreed) criteria, and cannot accept allegations of mismanagement or any responsibility.

“It’s important to note that if due to a significant weather event, flood flows exceed the capacity that the infrastructure is designed for, out-of-river flows are expected.

“This was an unprecedented weather event with both long and intense periods of rainfall. In the Ashburton/Hakatere River catchment area the weather event was of a magnitude greater than everywhere else in the region.

“We cannot stress enough that this was potentially the most significant rainfall and river flow event on record in Ashburton since we’ve been recording this data,” she said.