Tag Archives: floods

The Power of Nature…and Community

It’s often advised to live on a property for a year before developing a permaculture design. After 11 months on our small farm, disaster struck.

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The 2015 flood swelled the Whanganui River and its feeder streams. This is from the New Zealand Herald at the time: “On Saturday, June 20, one month’s worth of rain fell on Wanganui in 24 hours. That night and early Sunday morning the surging Whananui River brought the worst flooding on record. The resultant flood saw the city cut off and about 400 people evacuated mainly in Putiki, Aramoho and Wanganui East. The Whanganui River breached its banks around midnight on Saturday, spilling floodwater into the central business district.”

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Two kilometres from Te Awa Tupua up a side valley, we set out on the morning of June 21st – 5 years ago – to survey the damage, which occurred in both the forms of slips and the loss of stream banks.

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The power of the flooding stream sheared off fencing wire.

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Here is the elevated stream on Sunday morning the 21st five years ago…

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…and now after fencing off and planting the stream corridor with over 2,000 natives.

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That weather event has been on my mind ever since. It has guided our priorities, decision making, spending, and significantly honed our approach to land design and management. I have written extensively about these topics over the last half decade, but in this post I want to reflect on the progress we’ve made and to thank those who’ve helped.

Kaitiakitanga

Before the storm event I had ordered 20 poplar poles from Horizons Regional Council but had not planted them yet – luckily as we would have lost some in the slips. But after the storm our ambitions for land protection expanded far beyond a handful of poplars, as did our relationship with Horizons, who came to the table with advice, financial support and hundreds of native plants.

Our relationship to the land shifted from one of management to one of kaitiakitanga – guardianship. This is from teara.govt.nz:  “Kaitiakitanga means guardianship and protection. It is a way of managing the environment, based on the Māori world view. A kaitiaki is a guardian. This can be a person or group that cares for an area such as a lake or forest.”

We felt a strong urge to protect, restore and enhance our land for the long term. Our priorities shifted from market gardening, raising lambs and a house cow to tree planting and water management. We’ve retired grazing areas and protected wetlands. During the last five years we’ve planted over 3,000 trees, shrubs, wetland grasses and flax in order to stabilise hillsides and stream banks. The efforts started with fencing off the stream with the financial help of Horizons Regional Council and the mad skills of my mate Gavo, who taught me how to brace posts and strain wires.

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Others slept on the job.

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To date we have strung about 2.5 kilometres of fence on the farm as part of our resilient management strategy, which has been thoroughly described in previous blog posts.

On Sunday we hosted our seventh planting bee in five years. We enjoy inviting ‘townies’ out to the farm to get their hands dirty and help our restoration efforts. Hundreds of students, children, parents and adult volunteers have participated. The events are less about getting so many trees planted and more about sharing our love of the land…and some yummy kai!

In addition to the native plantings we have planted 150 poplar poles supplied by Horizons and established a mixed fruit tree orchard, a hillside olive grove, and avocado orchard.

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Our first group: Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Tupoho students.

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Before (above) & After (below)

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Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Tupoho students.

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Before (above) & After with pig shelter (below)

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Before (above) & After (below)

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Before (above) & After (below)

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Before (above) & After (below)

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Before (above) & After (below)

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Before (above) & After (below)

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Before (above) & After (below)

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Arohanui and thanks to all the friends, interns and volunteers who have planted trees with us. Special thanks to Horizons Regional Council, Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Tupoho, Wanganui Garden Centre, Bunnings, Whanganui Collegiate School, YMCA Central, Springvale Play Centre, Rob Bartrum, Chris Cresswell, and Gavin Coveny. Chur.

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Peace, Estwing

Things May Not Be As They Appear

Editor’s Note: This is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.

 

Timing is everything and you can’t judge a book by its cover. It seems we’re constantly reminded of these lessons. I’ll share some examples this week.

First of all, I faced these truisms late last week when I tried to push the garlic season by digging some bulbs for the Saturday market. On the surface they looked huge – stems thick and green. My hopes were high as I gently lifted the first few from the rich, dark soil only to be disappointed that what emerged did not match what was visible from above.

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Yes, I was pushing the season by two to three weeks, but the stems were already so big I thought… Reminds me of another saying: Good things come to those who wait. Like fine wine, the World’s Best Garlic will not be rushed. The flavour is as good as ever, but more time will fill out the cloves. It won’t be back at the market until next week.

Another example of the importance of timing is how global climate scientists managed to manipulate the weather to cause devastating floods in England, southern Norway and India to coincide exactly with the COP 21 climate change talks in Paris. It’s obvious that climate scientists caused the massive rainfalls in England and India because they dumped the same amount – 341 millimeters – in both locations. This is exactly the type of lazy science we have come to expect from the likes of NASA, NOAA, NIWA, and the IPCC.

At least we can rely on India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and his press office, for giving it to us straight on the flooding. What most people don’t realize is that Modi made a special trip to Whanganui in June to assess the extent of our own flooding as shown in the accompanying photo.

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In the age of Photoshop, many things may not be as they appear.

But seriously, how’s this for timing: the region of Cumbria, England has experienced three record floods in a decade. After the 2009 flooding, residents were told they had experienced a once in a lifetime rain event. Nek minit, Storm Desmond with over a foot of rain in a day. Water levels were half a metre higher than the 2005 flood.

By these measures, Whanganui could experience flooding 50 centimetres higher than this year as soon as 2021. Although there is low probability of this happening, it is not out of the realm of possibility. Cumbria has set a precedent, and even if we stopped burning carbon today there are already decades of extreme weather events loaded into the atmospheric system just waiting for the right time.

England’s Environment Secretary Liz Truss said the increasing frequency of extreme rainfall is “consistent with the trends we’re seeing in terms of climate change.”

Throughout Cumbria, 45 million pounds have been spent on flood defences over the last decade. They were all overtopped, although Floods Minister Rory Stewart claims they slowed the water and allowed more time for evacuations to take place. Timing is everything.

Based on most everything coming across the wires on the environment, economy and society, the only constant we can count on is increasing volatility. As I have written time and time again, the best way to respond to volatility is with resilience, and a particular form characteristic of eco design that I call “pre-silience.”

A simple way to describe pre-silience is a stitch in time saves nine. All this means is that a timely effort now will prevent more work later. For example, a small hole in a shirt can be repaired with one stitch if caught early, but will require many stitches if allowed to tear and grow larger.

Personally, I don’t bother repairing shirts because at the present time they are cheap and abundant from op shops, but I do spend hour upon hour stitching up houses and land. That is to say making both more robust and resilient. I’ve always been attracted to old homes and marginalized land. Repairing both is fun and rewarding work.

Unfortunately, the concept of resilience has yet to arrive in our community to any significant extent, but I believe its time will come. It’s just discouraging that until then so many unrecoverable resources will be misdirected and monies misspent. I’m told that “a stitch in time saves nine” is an anagram for “this is meant as incentive.” But I’m not so sure.