About $1.2 million of works will be carried out to reduce flood risk in the Awanui, Kaeo and Kaihu River catchments over the next 16 months.
Craig Brown, Chairman of the Northland Regional Council’s Environmental Management Committee, says the detailed flood risk reduction programme stems from months of work by local authority, Central Government staff and affected communities.
Cr Brown says the programme – already underway in some areas - should offer improved protection against flooding and includes a mixture of channel works and stopbank improvements. Additionally, complex computerised flood models are being finalised for the Awanui, Kaeo and Kaihu Rivers to enable further flood risk reduction options to be investigated.
The physical works – which will build on existing Regional Council flood schemes – are being funded via a mixture of current and proposed targeted rates, Regional and District Council funding and assistance from the Ministry of Civil Defence Emergency Management.
The Awanui catchment, which has had the lion’s share of Council flood scheme spending in recent years to protect a vulnerable Kaitaia township, will have another $623,000 spent up to mid-2009, with Kaeo and Kaihu receiving $422,000 & $153,000 respectively over the same period.
Cr Brown says the Regional Council has spent about $1.5M on the Awanui scheme alone since mid-2005 and is expected to finish a previously agreed work programme in the area next year – two years ahead of schedule.
A new targeted rate to collect roughly $100,000 annually is also proposed for the flood-prone Whangaroa/Kaeo area, subject to community approval through the Regional Council’s current Annual Plan process. If approved, the funding would be additional to the $1.2M spent and will be used to maintain the channels of rivers and streams in that area.
However, Cr Brown cautions all three affected communities against unrealistic expectations over what the works in their areas will deliver, pointing out that floods are a natural event that will continue to occur throughout Northland.
“The unfortunate reality is that many Northland homes and communities like Kaitaia, Kaeo and even Whangarei were established decades ago on floodplains. Some of these plains literally stretch for kilometres, depending on the size of the river they serve and the shape of its catchment. With so many of our communities close to the sea, tidal influences also play a major role in many Northland floods.”
Cr Brown says these and other factors – including the fact floodplains are constantly evolving to offer a natural safety release valve for flooded rivers - make preventing floods altogether a physical impossibility.
“The work we will carry out over the next year or so is about prioritising and concentrating the available financial and physical resources of both the Councils involved and the community to try to reduce as much as possible the risks floods pose to people and property.”
Meanwhile, as part of its river management programme, Cr Brown says the Regional Council has also recently finished an initial assessment of the river management needs of more than 50 catchments of varying size throughout Northland.
“Twenty of these have now been prioritised for individually tailored river management plans which the Council is proposing to develop over the next two years. Council staff estimate the plans will cost in the vicinity of $1.6M in total and in line with Council’s current policy will need to be funded from general rates.”
Cr Brown says the plan process includes river and flood hazard surveys, detailed modelling where required, development and implementation of river management and flood risk reduction options.
“The communities, Councils and other stakeholders will be involved and consulted throughout, particularly over implementation and what rates will be needed from them to fund any works proposed. “