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Executive Summary


Water shapes the New Zealand landscape, sustains the country’s economic base, and feeds the rivers and lakes we drink from and play in, but when we have too much it poses a hazard. Flooding is part of life in New Zealand and is the country’s most frequent natural hazard.

Over the years ways to manage this flood risk have been developed. After the large floods in 2004 the Government decided to review flood risk management to ensure the current framework is robust. The Ministry for the Environment led the review, and a Steering Group provided direction and guidance throughout the review.

The review covers three key topics:

  • the role(s) of central government, local government and communities in ensuring good risk management practices are adopted in managing rivers and floods

  • funding and affordability, essentially asking who benefits, who pays, and who can afford flood risk mitigation

  • current flood risk management practices and whether these practices are appropriate, now and into the future, to meet the needs of New Zealanders.

This report presents the review’s findings. Briefly, the review found that the current flood risk framework is not fundamentally flawed but that important issues need to be addressed. The current practices of central and local government need to improve to manage current flood risk and adapt to future climate change. Funding and affordability are very real concerns for smaller, less wealthy communities. The roles of communities, central and local government are broadly right, although central government could be more active in reducing flood risk.

Flood risk will increase with climate change. Central government currently spends most of its investment in flood risk management on the response and recovery phases. Investment in the reduction phase − to provide information, guidance and assistance, as well as resources − would help local government to more effectively manage flood risk and prepare for climate change.

The Flood Risk Management Review Steering Group included representatives from the following organisations:

  • Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry
  • Department of Internal Affairs
  • Otago Regional Council
  • Thames Coromandel District Council
  • Ministry for the Environment
  • Treasury
  • Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet
  • Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management

A vision for flood risk management in New Zealand

New Zealand needs to have the best possible flood risk management framework to minimise the distress and disruption that floods have on communities. We need to understand how the factors contributing to flood risk can best be managed by central and local government, in partnership with the community. Accordingly, the Steering Group’s vision for flood risk management in New Zealand is:

Individuals, communities and New Zealand society will understand and take responsibility for actively reducing the consequences of flooding by:

  • accepting that natural processes in the wider catchment determine long-term solutions

  • managing our activities, lands and waters to reduce damages and losses to an acceptable level

  • considering people’s social, cultural, environmental and economic wellbeing

  • Integrating climate change and variability into decision-making.

Principles to guide future flood risk management policy

To reduce the consequences of flooding, decisions made on flood risk management need to:

  • take a long-term risk management perspective, including climate change, residual risk1and having a 'no regrets' precautionary approach to risk and uncertainty
  • respect environmental limits and natural processes, including river and catchment processes, and protecting the life-supporting capacity of water, soil and ecosystems
  • integrate flood risk management with sustainable land management and catchment management policies and decisions that affect the magnitude of flooding and/or the consequences of flooding
  • consider the consequences of flooding, including the resilience and vulnerability of communities and infrastructure as well as the risk to life and property
  • ensure individuals and communities take primary responsibility for their safety and livelihoods
  • take a partnership approach with, and between, central government, local authorities, communities and Māori
  • recognise that local, regional and national perspectives are different and may require different inputs with different goals and outcomes
  • be made at the appropriate level of government that maximise the outcomes sought in flood risk and catchment management, and that are based on the robust evaluation of options, costs and benefits over time and across the community
  • include informed communities as part of decision-making about levels of acceptable risk and mitigation measures for those communities
  • take an adaptive management approach that is responsive to change over time and that optimises sustainable structural, non-structural and emergency management solutions.

Residual risk is the risk that remains after an action is taken to manage that risk; for instance, the risk to a community that a stopbank is overtopped in a flood that is larger than the stopbank is designed for.