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Westcoast farms slowly smothered in flood gravel from cyclone

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Barrytown dairy farmer Richard Reynolds stands next to one of several small streams which has been spewing gravel across his pasture. Photo / Brendon McMahon

Parts of a Barrytown farm are slowly being smothered by gravel brought down from creeks in the Paparoa Range.

Dairy farmer Richard Reynolds said the blowout of creeks on to farmland had been remarkable in the past year, often triggered by sudden and localised cloud bursts.

The situation was not helped by the loss of vegetation flattened and killed off in the headwaters during Cyclone Fehi in 2014.

“The cyclone was the tipping point of it and it’s just taken off since then,” Reynolds said.

“We’ve got a very short run to the sea but a very steep fall. This is not a brand new phenomenon, erosion on the coast … everyone at the moment seems to have a very short-term view.”

He praised the response from the West Coast Regional Council.

“I don’t think we understand how good a regional council we’ve got when it comes to crisis management. You wouldn’t get that from most councils … You talk to guys from Nelson and Canterbury – they’re astounded what we can do. They cannot understand how liberal our council is.”

Landowner rules for dealing with flood debris has been generating heat at the council table this year. Rules around using a digger in the “wet bed” of a waterway to restore banks after a flood event have been particularly contentious.

Consents and compliance manager Colin Helem said a new fact sheet would be distributed shortly to landowners outlining what they could and could not do.

The council was acutely aware of the gravel build-up in stream catchments and the effect of high-intensity rainfall.

“I think we’re seeing more of these events at the moment, so it’s going to be an ongoing problem,” Helem said. Reynolds said gravel management in stream and riverbeds was at a point where an “active gravel management plan” was needed in every region.

The alternative could be to let existing stopbanks go in some areas to deal with aggrading riverbeds.

“Building those river stopbanks higher and higher is not actually a solution,” he said.

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