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Memories comes flooding back

Heather Keast and her mother, Susan, with a photo of their farm bordering Lake Wairarapa. PHOTOS/BECKIE WILSON


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Susan Keast can remember canoeing across her father’s south Featherston dairy farm to deliver cans of milk to the tanker when nearby Lake Wairarapa would flood.

So recent news that the idea of redirecting the Ruamahanga River’s low flows back into the lake as discussed at a Greater Wellington Regional Council meeting last week has astounded the Keasts.

While only in the feasibility stages, investigations done by Ruamahanga Whaitua committee show the redirection would improve the lake’s quality, and restore its mana.

Before the Ruamahanga River was diverted away from Lake Wairarapa in the 1980s, Susan’s farm had never been ploughed.

“The diversion just made our farm, it solved all the problems — it was all swampy and the rushes were higher than the tractor, and had never been ploughed,” she said.

The current idea is to direct the river’s low flows into the lake, and continue directing flood waters through the man-made diversion.

The Keast’s property borders the lake, near Lake Domain.

When Susan’s father returned from war he drew the farm by ballot, and she has lived there for her entire 73 years.

When the lake would flood, 90 per cent of the farm would be under water, and levels would rise above the fences, and even lap up to the house.

“We had to stay home, and all the fences were under water so we could canoe over the fences,” Susan said.

She had lived through at least one major flood a year, and to think the river’s low flow could be directed back into the lake “is not a very good feeling at all”.

Susan’s daughter, Heather Keast, is a 50/50 sharemilker on the property, and shares a similar view to her mother.

While they both appreciate the idea is still very new, they said discussions with landowners surrounding the lake would be necessary.

Wairarapa has just come out the other end of a very wet winter, which bought about damage to their property, and flooded about 12-ha of the 80-ha effective dairy farm.

Heather worries that the committee has not taken into consideration the higher river flows into the lake during winter.

“The worry is, if you are going to put the lake level up and then divert the flood water, we need some sort of assurance that it will not get worse,” she said.

She is also conscious of the looming climate change effects, and the additional impact that will have on the farm if the river is redirected.

She said it was all very nice to think the E.coli levels would be reduced, but  the effects on farm land were unclear.

During winter, Lake Wairarapa can be at high level for months, which does impact their ability to farm.

If more water is flowing into the lake, it can only have a negative effect on surrounding farm land, she said.

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