Winchmore dairy farmer Henry Rooney can see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. But it’s still a long way off and will take time, money and manpower to get to it.
However it’s a far cry from where he was a month ago when the majority of his Jersey Willows farm was under water.
He thought he had lost everything when heavy rain and rising waters saw a breach of the north branch of the Ashburton River cross a neighbouring property, and flow through his.
His farm sits on Aikens Road, and is bordered by Ashburton River and State Highway 77. The neighbouring farm to the west, is that of older brother Laurence.
After water flooded Laurence’s farm, it raged through Henry’s and brought debris from far afield – including 20 concrete culverts – and destroyed more than 20 years of development.
Among which were farm workers quarters, a special family holiday spot at the back of the farm used by the wider-Rooney clan and a landscaped garden space set to host the forthcoming wedding of Henry and fiancee Sheree in February.
Childrens’ toys, playground equipment, damaged fencing and downed trees remain along a path forged by deep flowing waters. Such was the force of the water, one farm workers’ cottage was moved around 15-metres from its foundation and a new hole carved into a pond area.
The farm has a freshwater stream running through it – which is usually just a trickle – as well as the tail-end of the redeveloped Mt Harding Stream. It’s banks and plantings were wiped out.
The breached Ashburton River water merged with an already at capacity Mt Harding Stream and spilled across the farm
Logically water should have flowed past the cowshed – built on the highest ground for just such an occasion – but its access back to the river was hindered by overgrown and unkempt river vegetation and with nowhere to go it flooded the farm causing more damage.
Of the 75-hectare farm, just 13-hectares nearest the State Highway 77 was unaffected.
The herd of 250, is made up of high breeding worth cows, but had been reduced to 215 since the floods, and moved to a lease block along the road. There are regular visits for break fencing and welfare checks.
Volunteers, including many from outside the district, have come in to help with clearing debris and restoring fences.
Henry’s sister Veronica has also been on hand. She has been making a daily commute from Geraldine to help out where she can. There are still cows to care for ahead of calving and a young family on farm to consider.
Among the volunteers last week was Phil Hoskin, of Te Anau, who is a seasonal Department of Conservation ranger on the Kepler Track.
Phil works from October to late-April, had time and wanted to help affected farmers in the district.
His accommodation in Mid Canterbury was covered by money given to Hinds and District Lions for flood recovery – from the Edgecombe Lions in Christchurch – as a thank you for all the help they received during the earthquakes in the city.
“It’s really good how everyone’s got together to help,” Henry said, of the work being done in the district.
Although the water has since receded, a cover of thick river silt has been left in its wake. It coats where ever water flowed and reminded a group of cleanup volunteers from Christchurch of liquefaction in the city after the earthquakes.
It is inches thick across paddocks and there are piles of it scattered around indiscriminately.
As the top layer of the silt dries out, the dust gets everywhere, Veronica said.
The Rooneys are chipping away at their clean up, sorting what they can into piles and waiting on insurance assessors. It’s a slow process.
They are stockpiling shingle, rebuilding stream banks and putting culverts back in place. Cow lanes had been cleared of debris but exposed rocks would need to be relaid for herd use, and silt on paddocks would need to be removed, cultivated, then resown.
Henry predicts it would take two years to regrass; a staggered process dealing with one paddock at a time.
There are still fences to clear, and fences to restore – as well as the laneways.
As quickly as the water came in, Henry was surprised by how fast the water drained despite it being “black water for over a week”.
Ten days after the flooding, they had removed the worst of the trees and branches strewn about paddocks and tracks, which helped lift some mental anguish.
And one month on planned to chip away at the remainder, mindful calving was due to start in late-July.