Flooding – roles and responsibilities

This page provides information on the roles and responsibilities of individuals and organisations in managing the risk of floods.

In New Zealand, the approach to managing hazards including flooding is 'local solutions to local problems'. The role of local government (regional, city or district councils) focuses on the daily management of flood risk. Central government helps local government prepare for flooding and helps when floods become too large for a community or region to manage. 

Power, gas and telephone companies also play an important part in managing flood risk. Around the country ‘lifeline groups’ have been formed to minimise the impacts on these important services.


When you buy property or build a house or business, you can ask your regional council or local council where floods have occurred or where future flooding might occur. You can also see if there are any rivers or streams near your home and attend public meetings about local flooding. Often it is possible to know where the water may go and plan around it. For instance, if you are building you can site your home out of any floodable areas, raise the floor level or make your house better able to withstand floods.

When a flood occurs, getting people, stock and pets out of harm’s way is important. Taking action such as moving valuables upstairs or onto the top of wardrobes and shelves may reduce damage from floodwater.

After a flood, you can reduce the impacts of future floods by making changes to your property such as moving electrical circuits higher or re-building your house with more waterproof materials. You may also choose to move buildings up or away from the flooded area.

District and city councils

Your district or city council can help you understand where floods occur. Councils are responsible for controlling building and the effects of land use to reduce flood risk.

District and city councils control building under the Building Act. They can put special controls on buildings to make the buildings safer from flooding.

Under the Resource Management Act, councils can also set rules about where buildings can be located, where subdivision can take place, and the effects of land use. Managing flood risk and other natural hazards is one factor the councils must take into account amongst many other factors when making decisions.

District and city councils often collect information and have access to information on flooding collected by regional councils and other agencies. This information may be contained on a hazards register or the district or city plan. Please contact your district or city council to find out about flood risk in your area, what information they may have and what you can to reduce the risk of flooding.

In a large flood, your council will coordinate with the emergency services, utility providers like your electricity company and other agencies to minimise the impact of the flood on people and property. After a flood, councils assist in the clear-up and get council services, such as water and roads, working again.

Regional councils

Regional councils can also help you understand where floods occur. Their websites often have information on flooding or you can ask your regional council about flooding in your area.

Regional councils manage rivers and catchments under the Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Act and the Resource Management Act. Regional councils can also control land-use activities through the Resource Management Act and regulate large dams under the Building Act.

Many regional councils operate and maintain flood defence systems (for instance stop banks) around rivers and lakes. These systems are designed to cope with floods up to a particular size. Larger floods may overwhelm the flood defence systems, spilling flood waters onto the surrounding land.

Regional councils maintain records of river flows, lake levels, rainfall and past floods. Some regional councils also model the behaviour of rivers so they can predict future flooding. This information can be provided to district and city councils

Regional councils issue flood warnings and work with district and city councils to let people know that floods are on the way. If a flood is severe and widespread your regional council may declare an emergency for all or part of the region and coordinate a response with your district/city council.

Following floods, a regional council will repair damage to flood defence systems and waterways and map where the floodwaters went. The information they collect can be used to update flooding maps and hazard registers.

Central government

Central government provides councils and communities with the necessary powers to manage and prepare for flooding effectively. Legislation includes the Resource Management Act, the Building Act, the Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Act, and the Civil Defence and Emergency Management Act.

The national civil defence emergency management plan sets outs the government’s vision for managing emergencies, such as flooding. For more information, see the national civil defence emergency management planning information on the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management website.

Often the police and fire service help with local flooding and when floods become large the army may also be called on to help councils evacuate people and stock.

The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management is responsible for ensuring systems are in place to adequately deal with an emergency and the post-emergency recovery phase after such an event. During a large flood, the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management may coordinate a national response and appoint a co-ordinator. If a flood is extremely severe and very widespread, affecting more than one region, the Ministry may declare a National Civil Defence Emergency.

Central government provides financial assistance to councils to help evacuate and look after people affected by large floods. The Ministry for Primary Industries coordinates assistance to the rural community during and after large floods. More information on emergencies in the rural sector can be found on the Ministry for Primary Industries’ website.

Central government also provides assistance following a large flood event to communities and councils to help them recover from the event. Any assistance will depend on the size of the flood and the flood’s impacts.

The Ministry for the Environment provides guidance on managing the effects of natural hazards through regional and district plans and policy documents.

In June 2007, the Ministry for the Environment reviewed how New Zealand manages its flood risk and river control.