Floods trigger renewed LGNZ call for protection work funding

6:09 pm on 9 December 2019

Flooding in the South Island at the weekend has reignited a call from councils to central government to help them fund flood protection work.

Flooding across paddocks.

The flooded Rangitata river. Photo: Supplied/Peter Lyttle

The Rangitata River in South Canterbury burst its banks leaving both State Highway 1 at Rangitata and the Upper Rangitata Bridge at Arundel impassable on Saturday. Just before noon on Monday the Upper Rangitata Bridge re-opened.

Separately townships on the West Coast, including Franz Josef and Fox Glacier, remained cut off after washouts and slips blocked State Highway 6, affecting 1000 tourists.

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) said the flooding highlighted the urgent need for councils and central government to ramp up investment in flood protection schemes.

Prior to the early 1990s, the capital cost of substantial river management and flood protection schemes was commonly supported at levels of 50 per cent to 75 per cent by central government with maintenance and operating costs at rates of around 33 percent.

National support typically amounted to more than $114m per annum in today's dollars.

Rangitata River remains flood on Sunday 8 December, 2019.

Rangitata River in flood on Sunday 8 December. Photo: Facebook / Timaru District Council

Investment stalled after the 1989 local government reforms, when central government withdrew capital funding for river management and flood protection projects.

For three decades regional and targeted ratepayers footed the bill. To add further insult the Crown doesn't pay rates on its assets.

Communities, largely through regional councils, have continued to invest $200m a year in these schemes, but without central government support this critical infrastructure has not kept pace with growing flood risks, LGNZ said.

LGNZ President Dave Cull said flooding was 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," he said.

"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."

About 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 more than 100 towns and cities.

Mr Cull said there was policy work going on through the Community Resilience work programme, but he urged "real action".

"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 report released by LGNZ in August titled Central Government Co-investment in River Management for Flood Protection said the present funding arrangements were neither equitable nor sustainable for addressing present and emerging needs.

It called for central government to "return to the table" and financially share in the task of providing necessary fit-for-the-future protection against New Zealand's primary natural hazard risk - flooding.

LGNZ said disaster relief was top-of-the cliff stuff.

National funding of at least $150m a year, with a three-year ramp-up, was recommended for flood protection work.

On average, a major damage and loss causing flood occurs every eight months in New Zealand.

Floods are New Zealand's most frequent and, cumulatively, most significant and most avoidable hazard.

The LGNZ report said current flood management has been good value for money but significant adjustments were now required.

New Zealand previously led the world with its recognition in 1941 that land and water management for flood protection needed to be catchment based.

The Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Act 1941 led to joint investment by central government, regional communities and directly benefiting property owners, in river management, drainage and flood protection schemes.

Most river management, drainage and flood management schemes were constructed up to half a century ago.

In recent times it was proposed that the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) provide a short-term central government funding solution but government did not see co-investment in river management schemes from the PGF being an appropriate use of those funds.

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