Independent conservation organisation Forest & Bird has called for the government to develop a nature-based plan that will protect wildlife and communities from flooding and set aside a $500m flood mitigation fund to make it happen.
In its new report, Tukua Ngā Awa Kia Rere | Making Room for Rivers, Forest & Bird called for a different approach to tackling increased flooding in Aotearoa. Its “room for rivers” concept would allow rivers to reclaim parts of their natural floodplains in strategic places. Forest & Bird said this approach was a nature-based climate solution that would not only protect communities from flood risks but also increase biodiversity and local recreation and tourism opportunities.
The proposal came in time to meet a recent government report listing 44 Kiwi communities vulnerable to flooding, which the Reserve Bank followed with a release of its own analysis on flood risk to communities. Similar studies were previously by IAG and Te Uru Kahika – Regional and Unitary Councils Aotearoa.
Making Room for Rivers also gave examples where room for river projects was successfully implemented, including the Dutch government’s “room for the river” programme in 2007, after floods had repeatedly overwhelmed the Netherlands’ existing flood protection. The Dutch government’s programme restored rivers’ natural floodplains to allow them to flood safely. The programme has worked ever since, with the last of 34 bespoke solutions proposed for each of the country’s “room for the river” locations completed earlier this year.
Forest & Bird proposed three steps to jumpstart improved river management in Aotearoa: First, develop a national room for rivers plan embedded in flood management and climate legislation, including a managed retreat from high-risk flood plains.
Second, appoint a group of experts to support and guide the development of the room for rivers national plan and craft practical guidelines to help councils incorporate it into district and regional programmes.
Third, establish a $500m contestable flood mitigation fund to support councils to undertake room for rivers projects and educate the public about the benefits of working with nature to reduce flooding.
New ideas like making room for rivers are urgently needed to address flooding and climate change, said Forest & Bird’s freshwater advocate Tom Kay.
“We’re keen to put something in front of the government and councils to help them understand the concept,” he said. “We want to work with officials and communities on options to make room for rivers in our regions, districts, towns, and cities.”
Kay said Forest & Bird would also be encouraging political parties to adopt room for river actions in their election manifestos.
“When we protect nature, we’re also protecting our homes and our communities. It’s a win-win solution,” he said.