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Published: 2007-11-26 00:00:00

Environment Waikato has announced it is undertaking a limited review of the way the Waihou Valley Scheme and the Piako River Scheme are funded.

Rates paid under the two flood protection schemes fund essential works that protect people, property and the environment in the Waihou and Piako catchments. The total area of land protected by the two schemes is approximately 50,000 hectares and includes the townships of Te Aroha, Paeroa, Ngatea and Thames. If it wasn’t for the schemes, large areas of land could not be farmed successfully.

The annual cost of maintaining the Waihou and Piako schemes is about $4.5 million and $2.5 million respectively, or about $7 million all up.

The Waihou scheme construction commenced in 1971 was completed in 1996 and the current rating system was adopted in 1982. The scheme is unique in that it was the first scheme in New Zealand that included the whole of the catchment and is also the largest scheme in the country. Works include upper catchment land retirement, soil conservation works on properties to reduce erosion, river and stream works to reduce erosion and flooding, and flood protection works that stretch from Te Aroha to the sea.

The scheme includes 3000 ha of land retirement, 130 properties with soil conservation works, 370km of rivers and streams, 177 kilometres of stopbanks, 75 floodgates and 20 pumpstations. The current book value of its total assets is some $64 million. The scheme was mostly funded by Government subsidies and by a rate based on land value, with different rates for rural and urban property owners.

The Piako River scheme was constructed between 1962 and 1979 and focused on providing efficient drainage throughout the catchment, managing runoff from the upper catchment while providing flood protection for farmland between Paeroa-Tahuna Road and the sea. The scheme includes the management of approximately 200 km of rivers and streams, about 166 kilometres of stopbanks, 59 floodgates and 32 pump stations. The book value of flood protection assets is about $23 million. A new funding system for the scheme was adopted in 1999 and rates are based on land area. Those paying include people who benefit from the flood protection, and those who contribute to the need for the flood protection works.

In 2002, the council said it would look at the Piako scheme funding system after five years but, as it went through extensive legal review in the High Court and Court of Appeal, a full review of the system is not considered appropriate for some time. But Environment Waikato has widened the limited Piako review to include some elements of the Waihou funding system, partly because the works maintained by the two systems provide overlapping benefits and the existing funding systems also overlap in parts.

“We want the rating systems to be more consistent, particularly in the way they charge those who gain indirect benefits from the schemes, such as small businesses who benefit indirectly from protection of the local agricultural economy,” said the council’s river and catchment services operations manager Guy Russell.

“We have an open mind about the way ahead, and plan to consult with key stakeholders and ratepayers about ideas they have for improving the funding systems. Any changes are due to be adopted through the Long-Term Council Community Plan process in 2009. We encourage groups and individuals in the affected communities to have their say on whether they think there are better ways of funding this crucial flood protection work.”

However, Mr Russell stressed the review is not the forerunner to a complete overhaul. “We will not, for example, reassess the schemes in their entirety or seek to amalgamate them. Rather the review is designed to identify where improvements to the existing systems can be made.”