Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Flood danger could last months

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A week after South Canterbury’s flood authorities have warned the risk will remain for months.
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Restoring flood protection damaged by the Rangitata River could take months. Meantime, the river remains in a sensitive state so farmers must take extreme care, Civil Defence said.

Authorities report the flooding as an extreme event with 860mm of rain falling in the Rangitata River headwaters causing major flooding that cut off bridges, closed major roading networks and inundated large chunks of farmland.

One of the worst affected areas was Rangitata Island, much of which still remains under water.

Federated Farmers South Canterbury president and dairy farmer Jason Grant said water marooned 1500 cows on a family farm on the island.

While it was fortunate the cows made it to high land with one of the two milking sheds on the island the area is small with feeding and milking proving a desperate challenge.

“We are getting feed and people in to milk the cows via helicopter but five days on we will have to get them out soon as 1500 cows in a small space is not going to work much longer.

“The tankers can’t get in so the milk has to be dumped. 

“The farm has two milking sheds but the second shed is surrounded by floodwaters and we can’t get cows to that shed.

“Luckily, we have been able to get these (1000) cows out and onto neighbouring farms.

“This whole event is causing a fair bit of stress,” Grant said.

Irrigation infrastructure has been mangled, stockwater lines damaged, fencing wiped out and pastures ruined.  

“We really can’t even begin to assess the greater damage until the water fully recedes.

“Meantime, it’s about safety of people and animal welfare.

“The positive is no people have been harmed – stress levels are high and the welfare of the people involved is a real concern.

“The other positive is there’s been no reported stock losses.” 

Grant praised the co-ordination of emergency services and Civil Defence.

“They have all been really good making things happen. The response has gone above and beyond, breaking down barriers and allowing things to happen – it’s been amazing.”

The water flow into the normally dry south branch of the Rangitata River was responsible for the severe flooding downstream of State Highway 1. The last time any water went down the south branch was in 1999 but that was minor.

Authorities warn, given the pounding taken by the river’s protection, the river system is in a very sensitive state and, even with lower flows, changes in flow patterns are possible and could result in overland flow paths changing.

“It is important to note that the works being carried out initially are to relieve ongoing flood outflows.

“While improvements will slowly occur, works to restore flood protection will take much longer – weeks even months – and the river remains vulnerable to any future weather events.

“We continue to urge landowners in the area to use extreme caution,” Timaru Civil Defence spokesman Stephen Doran said.

Feds South Canterbury dairy chairman Ads Hendricks said community and welfare support through the Rural Support Trust and community groups has kicked into action and is being co-ordinated very effectively.

“The co-ordination of help and support has worked very well, everybody has just got on with it and it’s happened.”

Hendricks said the biggest challenges now are feeding stock, repairing pastures, irrigation systems and farm infrastructure and rebuilding fencing and lanes that have been washed away.

“There’s been support offered from groups and businesses both from within the industry and outside. 

“Hopefully, we can co-ordinate that quickly once we can get back on the flooded farmland and assess the need.”

Feed reserves are gone and pastures severely damaged with a call out to anyone able to help with feed to donate through the Feds online feed line.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be donated, farmers are prepared to purchase, but preferably it needs to be good quality feed because predominately it’s for milking cows.”

Some farmers will be forced to dry off cows as a result of the flood event, Hendricks said.

The Government has released $50,000 to support farming communities significantly affected by the flooding.      

Th money is tagged to speed recovery by way of pastoral support and specialist technical advice. It’s can’t be used for buying feed or doing farm repairs..

At the flood’s peak with bridge and road closures cutting access to Fonterra’s Clandeboye dairy plant Mid and South Canterbury milk had to be trucked out of the region.

Fonterra’s Clandeboye and Studholme plants general manager Steve McKnight said milk was going to the Darfield plant with trucks also crossing Cook Strait to lower North Island plants including Paihiatua and Whareroa.

“We were taking it wherever we could get it in.”

On-farm storage helped as tanker collection and delivery times were reorganised but that varied from farm to farm as did access to farms for collection.  

Clandeboye can process 14 million litres of milk a day while Darfield is half that capacity. Despite coming off peak milk production Canterbury is producing 17m litres a day.

“Clandeboye shut down at one point as with no milk coming in we had to balance the site with what milk was coming in but we had Darfield going flat out.”

McKnight said Fonterra was forced to dump milk from 69 farms over three days.

“That was simply because we didn’t have enough destinations for it and we were trying not to impact on any one farm, instead managing that across a number of farms.” 

Collections and processing were pretty much back on track by the end of the week.

“We appreciate the flexibility shown by so many of our farmers as we managed through day by day.”

He also had praise for the emergency response.

“We all worked together as a team. It’s vital for co-ordination and the importance dairy has to the region was recognised by Civil Defence and the Timaru District Council.”

Despite toppled pylons and fallen power lines at the peak of the power outage Alpine Energy reported only about 130 customers were left without power.

Where outages did occur the challenge was gaining access to the land.

Nine Transpower pylons were damaged, including one swept away by and two crumpled to the ground with the remaining six while standing, damaged to varying degrees.

Transpower doesn’t anticipate ongoing issues with electricity supply.

The storm hit at the critical spring mating period for dairy herds but agritech and herd improvement co-operative LIC took to the air to help farmers.

Using small planes and helicopters, semen straws were still delivered to farmers on time.        

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