Farmers paying on land lost to erosion

Gert van't Klooster
Gert van't Klooster
Farmers whose properties are alongside the Waitaki River are irate they are being charged rates on land which has been washed away.

Waimate farmer Gert van't Klooster lost 4ha of farmland when Meridian Energy spilled water from its hydro-electric storage on the Waitaki in December.

While Mr van’t Klooster could accept that Meridian was operating within its consent, he said he found it much harder to pay Environment Canterbury rates on land which was no longer part of his property.

"I have a bill now from ECan on land which isn’t there. It doesn’t generate any income, and there are mortgages to pay on that land, too," he said.

Mr van’t Klooster said there were 11 sites along the river which had suffered minor to major damage.

"Over time islands have formed in the river and that basically pushes the water to the outside," he said.

"ECan has recognised the islands are a problem ... but in the meantime we are stuck with them and they keep on causing problems."

Nearby farmer Robert Smith did not lose any land during the most recent flood, but he did lose crops.

He had previously seen large tracts of his farm disappear and a hectare of his land was left at serious risk of erosion by the December event.

Mr Smith wanted to see improvement from ECan in how the river flow was directed.

"What we want is to see the river managed to the point where it stays out in its riverbed and doesn’t keep eating productive land."

Farmers had to weigh up the cost of having land resurveyed against how much money they would save in rates on their decreased holdings, Mr Smith said.

"The onus is on us if we want a reduction in rateable value ... and it’s not cheap.

"The issue is that we are losing land permanently."

ECan river engineering manager Leigh Griffiths said the organisation was aware of the erosion, and had been working with affected landowners since December.

"We use the property valuation as a means to assess the targeted rate payable by each landowner and this is ultimately linked to the property boundary," she said.

"We have not considered a rates reduction at this stage."

Ms Griffiths said hydro lakes had been at capacity in December, and the Waitaki dams had reduced the peak flow in river from about 2400cumecs to 1100cumecs.

"Unfortunately, the Waitaki River, and indeed all of Canterbury’s braided rivers, are powerful waterways that cannot be controlled all of the time," Ms Griffiths said.

"We all need to be prepared for the reality that flood events are going to occur with a higher frequency in the future as our climate changes."

Meridian was taken to task by the Electricity Authority last week, in a report which said its decision to spill water potentially created an "undesirable trading situation" in the wholesale power market.

Meridian said it was dealing with "exceptional" weather events at the time.

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