Editorial: Sensible solution for farm flooding timely

TRAUMATIC: Glen farmer Warwick King surveys his flooded farm in December 2011.
TRAUMATIC: Glen farmer Warwick King surveys his flooded farm in December 2011.

A week before Christmas in 2011, Warwick King was the less-than-proud owner of New Zealand's largest swimming pool.

At least, that's how he described his farm in the Glen. His 180ha property was under water, people at Airlie St in the Glen and nearby Cable Bay were stranded and State Highway 6 was briefly closed at Todds Bush as North Nelson suffered the impact of a major rain bomb which wreaked havoc across the wider region.

Mr King - not for the first time - got out the cattle prod, urging the Nelson City Council to install more pipes at nearby Sewerside Dr to allow water to drain more quickly from the catchment that stretches from Todds Bush to Glenduan.

Three years later, plenty more water has flowed under the bridge and Mr King is still waiting for action. Along with three other farmers from the area he has pressed the case before the council for something to be done to mitigate the impact of future flooding.

He points out he pays $30,000 a year in rates for two rural properties but on his farm at the Glen there are no dwellings, meaning no sewerage or household water connections, no rubbish collections: very little return, in fact, for rates of this order.

Part of the farmers' beef was centred on frustrations over council application of the Resource Management Act. They say their land would be safer if sub-standard drains - in the area neglected before the 2011 floods - are cleared.

Further, they got clearance to do the work last year only to be jumped on by a council officer who ordered the work be stopped or they would face prosecution. An issue was that the drains - originally hand-dug - are now considered natural waterways and clearing them requires a resource consent.

Regardless of what the letter of the act might say, that appears a nonsense. Water will - naturally - flow first down a channel, man-made or otherwise. Farmers, usually big on practical and common sense, also would have dug the drains where they were most needed. Surely council staff have more to do with their time than getting pedantic about maintenance work on man-made farm ditches.

The council now says there was confusion over which sections of a drain were able to be cleared, and that it is currently seeking resource consents for clearing all drains on the land, some of it council-owned. Further, it intends to investigate a "more enduring" option for stormwater disposal for the whole Wakapuaka flats area.

There will always be conflicting opinions over ratepayer support for protecting private farms. It might also be pointed out much of the land in the area is around sea level, creating obvious drainage challenges. In this case, however, it appears the farmers are subsidising other ratepayers, given the minimal benefits they seem to get for high rates.

Cawthron Institute, meanwhile, has invested heavily in the area, meaning it's not only about protecting a few private farmers. Regional councils often work closely in partnership with farming, forestry and other interests in establishing and maintaining catchment plans. Hopefully the current "misunderstanding" has been cleared by this week's meeting, a productive relationship re-established and the work done - before the next weather bomb hits.