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Published: 2014-06-16 00:00:00

Recent torrential rain and the resulting risk of flooding and slips have highlighted the importance of effective natural hazard management in Waikato.

The strategy and policy committee has heard that Waikato has more than 1000 rivers and streams and on average, Waikato people can expect significant flooding every two to three years.

While the council’s flood protection and river management schemes benefit 76 per cent of the region, in an extreme event they can’t be expected to completely protect people and property so it’s important people know the risks and how to manage them.

As well as river flooding, the region is vulnerable to coastal hazards, debris flows, earthquakes, geothermal activity, landslides, tsunami, volcanic activity and extreme weather.

Committee chairman Bob Simcock said the regional council had significant responsibilities to strategically manage natural hazard risks given Waikato’s active hazardscape coupled with its growing population and people’s preference for living and holidaying in hazard prone areas.

“We live in a region of wonderful, yet potentially hazardous, natural features – rivers, volcanoes and beaches,” said Cr Simcock.

“People have always chosen to live close to these places and that, of course, increases the consequences of natural hazard events.

“They buy a bit of land near a river or beach and put up a cheap bach, aware that they might get washed out every few years in a flood or have the front of their section fall into the sea – that’s living close to nature and they’re prepared to deal with it.

“Problems arise though when they sell their property and the next people come in, spend money on improving the place but the consequences of flooding or erosion are much greater in terms of financial loss.

“How much of that known risk and associated cost should be carried by the property owner or taxpayers and ratepayers?

“It’s a conversation we need to have.”

Central government, the private sector and individuals all have some responsibility for hazard management but the largest share of statutory responsibility rests with local government.

Waikato Regional Council and territorial authorities have responsibilities for controlling land use to avoid or mitigate natural hazards and ensuring that risks are managed through planning and consenting processes. The Waikato Regional Council is also responsible for minimising and preventing erosion and flood damage and coordinating the region’s civil defence and emergency management group.
“The important point is that we need to work closely with central government, other local authorities, welfare and health agencies and the community to ensure the best ways of dealing with our known risks,” Cr Simcock said.

The committee endorsed ongoing work to ensure the council had a good understanding of the acceptable, tolerable and intolerable degree of risk for Waikato communities.