Waimea River Stopbank


Stopping a wipe out

Before the building of the stopbank by the Nelson Catchment Board between 1957-63, floods were a major problem at the mouth of the Waimea River. The first stopbank was wiped out and the second one breached. Three major floods within the last century have helped develop the design and construction of stopbanks.

Waimea River stopbank 2016IMG 6061

Waimea River Stopbank 2016, now part of the Great Taste Cycle Trail. Photo Cathy Vaughan

In the early part of the 1900s the landowners on the eastern side of the river came together to build a bank, northwards from the Appleby Bridge. They dug soil from the paddocks, transported it by horse and dray and tipped it to create a bank. Two Irishmen, Martin Hughes and Barney Reilly, put up half-a-mile of the bank with only shovels. The bank was never “tramped”. The huge flood of 1918 wiped it out.

Following the next big flood of 1939, the landowning families Hammond, Russ, Challies, O’Connor and Barnes hired the bulldozers belonging to Transport Nelson at their own cost and in 1942 erected a bank along the line of the present one on the eastern side of the Waimea River. This was breached in 1944.

The discussion that began, about the need for something permanent on both sides of the river, was timely in that by this time the Nelson Catchment Board was established. Building the bank started in 1957, beginning an era of more defined ownership and ending the motorcycle scrambles that had taken place in the area. By 1962 most of the bank had been constructed. It was tapered off as it met Pearl Creek in the belief that during a flood the river needed the option of spreading into its own basin.

Waimea stopbank flood 1962 Cotterell Road

Waimea River flood 1962

Another enormous flood occurred in 1962, with water completely submerging the Challies, O’Connor and Barnes properties. Subsequently the bank was extended, the causeway was built across Pearl Creek in 1970 and floodgates were installed to prevent the flooding of low-lying, upstream pasture.

The existing stopbanks have never been breached.

Written by Janet Bathgate

The text for this story came from the Tasman District Council/ New Zealand Cycle Trail Heritage Panel, 2012.

Updated, September 3, 2021

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