From our Chair: Thoughts on the recent floods

It has been a tumultuous time for those Cantabrians affected by the recent flooding – one of the worst cases the region has seen. My sincere condolences to all those whose lives and livelihoods have been impacted by this event.

Jenny Hughey, Chair, Environment Canterbury

Jenny Hughey, Chair, Environment Canterbury

Flooding is the most common natural hazard we contend with in this country. The recent extreme weather is a reminder of how vulnerable our communities can be to heavy rain and raging rivers.

Rain and our rivers

Canterbury’s large, braided rivers are generally at their most ferocious after days of north-westerly rain in the high country headwaters. We are used to seeing them flowing at high levels.

But our smaller rivers, those that rise in the foothills (such as the Ashley/Rakahuri, the Selwyn/Waikirikiri and the Ashburton/Hakatere), have relatively infrequent exposure to easterly rain. This means that, during extreme weather events, they can have a more direct impact on small rural communities if they flood.

Dealing with the storm

The damage to homes, farms and livelihoods is a tragedy, but if there is a silver lining, it is that no lives were lost, thanks in part to MetService issuing just its second-ever red warning.

Forecasters worked closely with Environment Canterbury hydrologists and river engineers to try to minimise the effects downstream from the vast amount of rain falling in the foothills.

Canterbury's flood protection

While the massive amounts of water overwhelmed some rivers, those with stopbanks and other types of protection work fared much better than they would have otherwise.

It will be cold comfort to those who have been seriously impacted by the floods, but Canterbury wide, the flood-protection network held up remarkably well under such an extreme event, which in some places saw more than 300% of average monthly rainfall in just 3 days.

The future of flood protection

New Zealand’s river-management and flood-protection schemes are a huge asset to communities. They safeguard hundreds of thousands of people, homes and businesses. A recent study calculated their replacement cost at around $2.3 billion.

The ongoing work for these schemes is funded by regional ratepayers, but as climate change increases the likelihood of more extreme weather, there is the question of central government playing a role in accelerating protection work.

Support available

It is a difficult time for many in our region right now. The loss of livestock, and the damage to farms, roads, riverbanks, bridges and other infrastructure is huge. Even once the repairs are made, there will be the ongoing psychological and financial effects of the disaster to deal with.

Support is available for those who need. The Civil Defence Emergency Management Canterbury website includes advice on how to make your home habitable again, how to remove flood debris, make an insurance claim, and find psychological support, financial help or emergency accommodation.

Please don’t hesitate to use the support services available.

More information

Feature image: Tinwald on 31 May 2021.