After a weekend of severe storms resulting in heavy floods and landslides that have left an estimate 1000 tourists stranded on New Zealand’s South Island, the peak local government body has called for urgent asset investment.
Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) says the flood damage of this week highlights the urgent need for councils and central government to prioritise investment in New Zealand’s river management and flood protection schemes.
Research commissioned by LGNZ’s Regional Sector showed successive investments in river management and flood control assets, such as stop banks and weirs, had unlocked billions of dollars in economic value over several decades.
However, that investment stalled after the 1989 local government reforms, when central government withdrew capital funding for river management and flood protection projects.
Communities, largely through regional councils, have continued to invest $200 million a year in these schemes, but without central government support this critical infrastructure has not kept pace with growing flood risks, according to LGNZ.
“Flooding is New Zealand’s most common natural hazard, one that is exacerbated by climate change induced storm events that are hitting us more frequently and with more ferocity,” said LGNZ President Dave Cull.
“Our river management and flood protection schemes have largely performed well over the last three decades, but as this weekend’s storm and the 2017 Edgecumbe floods have shown, we need to ramp up investment if we are to protect our communities and our economy now and in the future.”
As it stands, around 1.5 million hectares of New Zealand’s most productive and intensely used land is protected by 364-river management and flood protection schemes, as are over 100 towns and cities.
In total, these schemes currently provide an estimated annual benefit of over $11 billion each year, more than five times the capital replacement value ($2.3 billion).
Mr Cull acknowledged the policy work already underway in this area, principally through the Community Resilience work program, but urged both central and local government to translate this into real action on the ground as soon as possible.
“This is one of those unique problems where we have good data, a strong economic and environmental case, and a clear course of action,” said Mr Cull.
“What we need now is a political commitment from both tiers of government to put more funding on the table. It cannot wait until the next flood hits us, especially when we know that it is significantly more costly to do nothing for another 30 years.”
The Regional Sector’s 2019 report makes the case for greater co-investment in river management and flood protection schemes.
Image via iStock: flooding at Greymouth, New Zealand in September 2012.