Repairs to get underway to protect communities

Horizons Regional Council has approved reserve funding to repair more than $9 million of damage to river management assets caused by Cyclone Gabrielle.

Horizons river management staff have been assessing damage and meeting with affected landowners during the past eight weeks to determine what needs addressing to reinstate protection for vulnerable communities.
Horizons group manager catchment operations Dr Jon Roygard says with the initial assessment now complete, a package of repair works were put to Council in an extraordinary meeting for consideration on Wednesday.
“Council has approved this package which will predominantly use emergency reserves gathered via scheme rates for the purpose of repair works. The remaining budget needed will come from reserves from river management activity underspend in previous years, limiting the impact on rates.
“However, our reserves for some schemes will now be significantly depleted. This means our ability to repair anything for those schemes in the future without a rate impact is very limited.”
Horizons chair Rachel Keedwell says Cyclone Gabrielle and the many events prior to it highlights the impact climate change can have on river management activities.
“Looking ahead, we need to give some serious consideration to how we provide communities flood protection and whether our current management of rivers is fit for purpose. The fact that we now have a number of schemes with minimal or no emergency reserves left strongly suggests that our current approach is unsustainable and we need to adapt, particularly when it comes to trying to restrain rivers.
“These are conversations that will need to be had as part of our 2024-34 Long-term Plan (LTP) process, which starts for Council in May. Later in the LTP journey we will open up the conversation to our communities to have their say on what building resilience looks like.
“In the meantime, Council supports the required repairs and, where possible, building back better rather than replacing like for like. This could include things such as changing materials used for erosion control works or giving the river a wider corridor to move through.” 
Dr Roygard says Cyclone Gabrielle was a significant event for the region, causing more than $9 million of damage to river management assets such as stopbanks and erosion protection works.
“We acknowledge communities in the Tararua District and upper Pohangina and Ōroua catchments have been heavily impacted by the cyclone. This is on the back of a wet winter and other events as well, which also impacted other parts of the region. Those currently in recovery are likely to be so for several years.
“Our repairs will begin as soon as next week and will also take considerable time. Repairs will be on a priority basis and we’ll aim to complete them as soon as we practically can with the resourcing available.
“Repairs will predominantly be occurring in the Tararua, upper Pohangina and Ōroua, Rangitīkei and Lower Manawatū schemes and staff will be arranging scheme meetings in the coming months.
“In addition to damage repairs, Council has committed to an ongoing package for debris management in Tararua to reduce the damage from debris on infrastructure.
“The package approved by Council means we can get underway now but also we’re hopeful our region can get some central government financial assistance.”
Dr Roygard says Council is also seeking to meet with central government ministers to see if there’s national funding available for repair works or to enhance flood protection for communities in the region.
“Finally, Horizons would like to note their support of the request from Te Uru Kahika – Regional and Unitary Councils Aotearoa to central government regarding co-investment into improved flood protection measures.
“Flood risk adaptation and resilience involves a multi-tool approach as there is no ‘silver bullet’ solution to flood resilience. Co-investment from central government into the future would make a significant difference for our communities as we look to the future decisions that need to be made.”
Horizons’ 34 river management schemes are a designated area of land that receive protection from flooding, riverbank erosion and channel movement, and can also include land drainage services. Currently, 71,000 hectares of land and 10 urban areas are included within scheme areas in the Horizons Region.
All ratepayers in the region contribute to flood protection. However, those who live within a scheme area pay an additional direct rate for the protection they receive.