07 April 2017
The Clutha district could be the first in New Zealand to implement an adverse events plan for the evacuation of livestock during a disaster.
At a recent Clutha District Council meeting, Civil Defence outlined a plan that would put procedures in place to deal with threats to farmers' stock and their livelihood, in natural disasters such as flooding.
One of several Clutha adverse events plan coordinators, Graeme Booth, said animal welfare was now a requirement under Civil Defence and Emergency Management Otago.
"It used to be about people, but now because of MPI [Ministry for Primary Industries] requirements regarding animal welfare, livestock is now under Civil Defence, that animals must be looked after."
Booth, a retired farmer, had been involved in formulating a plan for many years. It became clear following the 1978 flood, which resulted in the loss of at least 21,000 animals , and severe flooding in the 1990s, that there was no formal plan for evacuating farm animals.
Since then, he had been working with other farmers to establish communications centres and coordinate evacuation and movement of livestock to high ground in three key areas, Paretai near Kaka Point, Inch Clutha and Kaitangata-Stirling.
This has now been incorporated into Civil Defence, to trigger a response in the event of a livestock-threatening event.
"This is unique to Clutha. We talked to other farmers around the country, and it could be that it forms the basis on an overall plan throughout the country, to come into emergency management planning."
The Clutha delta was particularly vulnerable to flooding, he said.
"We would hope that the Pomahaka and Clutha rivers would not ever peak at the same time. If that happened, Civil Defence would have a real problem.'
Balclutha-based Emergency Management Otago officer Brendon Smith, who was involved in coordinating aspects of the civil defence emergency response for the Kaikoura earthquake in November said, "if you have no stock you have no district".
History showed flooding could happen anytime, with catastrophic results, he said.
Several major floods have occurred on the Clutha, most notably the "Hundred year floods" of October 14-16,1878 and a century later, of October 13-15,1978.
The 1878 flood is regarded as New Zealand's greatest known flood. During this, a bridge at Clydevale was washed downstream, where it collided with and destroyed the Balclutha Road Bridge.
In the 1978 flood, Balclutha, Milton and Mataura were seriously affected with many residents moved, and Kelso, on the Pomahaka River, was completely abandoned and never rebuilt once the waters subsided. At its peak, at 6am on October 15, the Clutha's flow was measured at just over 4,500 cubic metres per second.
Smith said he welcomed the knowledge that farmers had brought to Civil Defence, and the establishment of a chain of command.
"It's all about getting ready for that big day that you hope will never come."
It had become clear over the years that with the increase in share milking, the number of cows had tripled, along with the number of houses and people on properties, which had to be taken into account in the adverse events plan strategy, he said.