Natural hazard risk is increasing in the Waikato due to more development in hazard-prone areas and climate change, says a new report from Environment Waikato.
The report says that river flood risks, in particular, are being mitigated by EW’s extensive flood protection works and flood warning management, and its provision of hazard information.
But the report, containing the results of a review of natural hazards-related policies in the council’s Regional Policy Statement, recommends a range of new measures to help minimise risks to people and property in the more challenging environment the region faces.
"Our review says the risks posed by natural hazards, such as river flooding and tsunami, are increasing in the region, meaning objective 3.8.4 of the Regional Policy Statement is not being achieved," said the council’s regional hazards and emergency management programme manager Adam Munro.
"In particular, this increased risk is believed to be probably the case with regard to river flooding, tsunami risks and coastal hazard risks.
"The main reason for the increased risk is that development is still occurring in hazard prone areas. There has been increased pressure for development in hazard prone areas such as the Thames Coromandel, Hauraki, Waikato and Taupo districts in particular."
The report said there had been a string of serious floods in the region over the past 30 years, and a "rapid increase" in development proposals within flood hazard areas over the past five years.
"Also, climate change is believed to be increasing the frequency and severity of bad weather that can lead to river flooding," Mr Munro said.
This increased threat from climate change further underlined how preventing inappropriate development in hazard risk prone areas is the best way of protecting people and property from natural hazards in the Waikato, he said.
"Our report suggests land use planning in the region needs to take a more proactive approach to minimising natural hazard risk, by avoiding high risk areas and guiding development into more appropriate areas at lower risk.
"We now need to look at exactly how the Regional Policy Statement can be strengthened to help ensure natural hazard risk is minimised.
"The report’s key recommendations include more emphasis on risk reduction and dealing with climate change, as well as better integration of local and regional policies."
The report and its recommendations, as well as feedback from other councils and stakeholders, would all be considered as part of the forthcoming review of the council’s Regional Policy Statement, Mr Munro said.
"It is vitally important we get our natural hazard risk policies as strong as they can be in the face of the increasing risks. At the end of the day, it’s all about protecting people and property from very serious risks, particularly river flooding which – as last winter’s events show - is all too common in our region."
To view the report visitwww.ew.govt.nz/naturalhazardsreport
Waikato natural hazards:
· Numerous rivers and streams – including New Zealand’s longest river, the Waikato River.
· Regional topography and geology makes the region highly susceptible to damage from river flooding.
· The Waikato is the most seismically active region in the country, with three active volcanic areas and hundreds of active fault lines.
· The region has 1,150 kilometres of coastline, with the more highly developed east coast having a high level of vulnerability to locally generated tsunamis, which would pose the greatest threat to life from natural hazards.