25 May 2024

West Coast council considers Auditor General's climate change advice

2:16 pm on 25 May 2024
The 2019 destruction of State Highway 6 bridge over the Waiho (Waiau) River was partly due to gravel build-up on the bed of the glacial-fed river, impacted by increasing high intensity rainfall and thawing effects on the river's upper catchment.

Photo: LDR / Supplied

West Coast Regional Council will further address the impact of climate change on its flood protection assets as it works through its long-term plan.

The Office of the Auditor General (OAG) advised the council in April it needed to better reflect climate change in the way it managed its protection assets, as outlined in its Long Term Plan (LTP) consultation document.

The matter was debated this week as council considered submissions on the plan.

Climate change was likely to increase the flood risk in the region due to sea level rise - with more frequent and severe storm events and additional pressure on rivers "caused by larger peaks" in rainfall, the draft plan said.

New Zealand was also moving into a "positive" Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) cycle, which historically caused an increase in West Coast river levels, as was experienced in the 1980s and 1990s.

At the same time, the retreat of the snowline and thawing of high alpine areas in the region was thought to be increasing the "mobilisation of gravel" into the river systems, as seen in the Waiho (Waiau) River at Franz Josef, and at Hari Hari on the Wanganui River.

Those impacts would have implications for the region's flood scheme operation and maintenance - with some special rating districts potentially "unable to afford the current level of service", the draft said.

This could "potentially challenge" some flood protection rating districts to make future decisions about whether or not to maintain or abandon their stop banks.

Of the 25 submissions received by council on the LTP, just three specifically commented on climate change.

Susan Thorpe referred to the "climate change scam" and sought removal of all climate policy from council's documents, after calling the basis for it "climate porn".

Another submitter, Merryn Bayliss, said the council should not be "obediently implementing central government agenda's without question" as it resulted in wasteful spending to meet questionable targets based on "false notions" about climate change.

Resource management committee chairman Brett Cummings said he enjoyed Thorpe's presentation, while councillor Andy Campbell said council needed to be "open minded".

However, chairman Peter Haddock moved a recommendation that council should proceed "on the most consistent information available".

But the council has decided to wait for staff advice on a formal recommendation which will address the Office of the Auditor General's climate change flag.

Council acting corporate services manager Aaron Prendergast reminded councillors the "adverse opinion" by the OAG had to be addressed.

"The OAG is of the opinion that this particular council is not on par with councils around the country," he said on 21 May.

As a result council could find itself disadvantaged as it sought new co-investment funding from the government to bolster the region's natural hazard resilience schemes, Prendergast said.

West Coast Regional Council chief executive Darryl Lew.

West Coast Regional Council chief executive Darryl Lew says it needs to 'get ahead of the curve' in assessing the impact of climate change on protection assets. Photo: Greymouth Star/Brendon McMahon/

Chief executive Darryl Lew said official concern about the climate resilience of councils' protection assets across the country had increased significantly in the past year.

What the OAG was saying was "we must understand our current level of service", Lew said.

At the same time, the council needed "to get ahead of the curve" in understanding the climate change impact on the level of service its protection assets offered, Lew said.

A report on the topic will be tabled at council's next meeting, scheduled on 4 June, and the LTP is due for adoption on 25 June.

- LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.

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