Framework for flood protection

SUSTAINABILITY: Project to help make decisions on growing challenges facing regional council




The Country

Aleading edge project to help Waikato regional councillors make best practice decisions on investment in flood protection and drainage assets is attracting interest from agencies around New Zealand. The draft sustainable infrastructure decision making framework (SIDF) received unanimous support when it was presented at this month’s meeting of Waikato Regional Council’s Strategy and Policy Committee. Committee chairwoman Pamela Storey said: “Investment decisions the Waikato Regional Council makes today can have long term ramifications — including committing council and communities to intergenerational investments. “We have flood protection and drainage assets totalling $643 million, and it’s estimated that we’ll spend about $2.8 billion over the next 50 years on the regular maintenance and renewal of infrastructure, like flood pumps and stopbanks,” Storey said. “We’ve got growing challenges — increasing maintenance and construction costs, increasing environmental regulation and community aspirations, and the significant impacts of climate change. And many of the flood protection and land drainage assets were constructed several decades ago, when flood and drainage management goals were the primary objectives. “With these pressures, it’s critical that we improve the way we assess proposed investments. Councillors have recognised this, and while it’s not required by legislation, we’ve wanted to develop a framework that takes account of community needs but minimises legacy issues for future generations.” Project lead science manager Dr Mike Scarsbrook said the framework is now getting interest from other councils and agencies around New Zealand. “Other councils are aware of the work we’ve been doing and are keen to learn more about it. We’ve now got to go out and discuss the framework with our communities, to ensure it’s going to be fit for purpose. “This is not a quick process — there is a substantial body of work to be completed before the framework can be adopted into our long term plan process, and it could take up to five years to get it right,” Dr Scarsbrook said. At the heart of the framework is a set of objectives that aim to clearly identify what the council is trying to achieve for the Waikato region through its long-term infrastructure investments. Development and testing of these objectives will be a major component of upcoming iwi partner, community and stakeholder engagement. Ensuring the affordability of schemes was a critical issue raised by some councillors during the meeting, with a complementary piece of work under way that will provide a robust economic analysis. Three-quarters of the Waikato region benefits from flood protection — that’s around 3000sq km of land. It’s funded through a combination of regional, zone and targeted rates. Those who benefit most (known as direct benefit), pay the most. Those who benefit least, pay least. But the benefits of flood protection go beyond just the properties located immediately behind a stopbank. The assets also protect community services and nationally significant infrastructure such as roads, railways, telecommunications, water supply, health facilities, electricity and schools. While central government provides co-investment for flood protection works through one-off competitive funding and recovery funding after the fact, neither provides sustained government investment to reflect these national benefits. That’s why Waikato Regional Council, as part of a collaboration of regional and unitary councils, has recently renewed its call for the Government to step up and help pay for future infrastructure investments. Integrated Catchment Management Committee chairman (north) Stuart Husband said: “We’re taking a unified approach to getting the government to recognise greater national investment is critical. “Having a robust decision-making framework in place will give all investors confidence that these longterm decisions will be the right ones for the Waikato region.”