Managing flood risk

by Steve Ruru, Local Government New Zealand

Since late 2006, I have been representing local government interests on a committee charged with the development of Standards for flood risk management in New Zealand.  This work has resulted in NZS 9401:2008 Managing flood risk – A process Standard.  This new Standard is based on the Flood Protocol, developed in 2005 by the Flood Risk Management Governance Group.  The managing flood risk Standard presents a best practice approach to managing flood risk.  It is designed to be used as the standard process approach, nationwide, when considering flood risk.  Intended users include local authorities, central government, communities, engineers, and developers.

The project started in February 2007, with 13 organisations comprising the committee, including the Centre for Advanced Engineering, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Environment Waikato, Federated Farmers, Insurance Council, Ministry for the Environment (MfE), Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Earthquake Commission, Ministry for Civil Defence and Emergency Management, Ontrack, Otago Regional Council, Thames-Coromandel District Council, and Whakatane District Council.  A representative from the Joint Australian/New Zealand Standing Technical Committee, OB-007, Risk Management was later co-opted by the committee.

The committee considered numerous documents, reports, and papers.  Some of the key considerations were:

  • The case for change – presentation outlining the current system failures and why change is required
  • Peninsula Project Audit, a recently completed project reviewed using the proposed Standard
  • Barriers to implementation, identifying impediments to implementing good practice
  • Civil Defence and Emergency Management Group plan, and Hazardscape report
  • New South Wales Flood Plain manual
  • National Policy Statement on flood and storm water risk management (MfE)
  • A policy statement from local government, March 2007
  • The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) summary findings from 17 councils, on how they manage flood risk
  • A report mapping the elements in the Flood Protocol against the relevance and applicability of the Risk management Standard, AS/NZS 4360
  • The Pitt report on flooding in the United Kingdom, 2007
  • Terms of reference for committee
  • Discussion paper for flood risk management workshop
  • Managing flood risk background report, which explained the thinking and the decisions made, during the development of the Flood Protocol.

A key issue discussed during the initial phase of the development was whether a Standard or a Handbook should be produced.  The committee reaffirmed the need for a document that clearly states what must be done (as opposed to what should be done), and hence decided on a Standard.

The initial draft was released for public comment in November 2007.  Standards New Zealand received over 105 pages of public comment and the committee reviewed these during two separate full-day meetings.  A large number of submitters wanted a prescriptive step-by-step Standard that gave examples of engineering flood protection measures, such as lifting a house by 1 m or building higher stop banks.  Some submitters also wanted a document that identified who was responsible for what, primarily from a legal perspective.  The committee decided, however, it was better to focus on providing a framework to help decision-makers work through the sorts of issues that need to be considered in addressing floods from a risk management perspective.

The overriding debate has been between the pure risk management experts, saying that the Standard should be more risk based, and the flood management fraternity, saying it is too risk based and they want more practical advice.  This sort of debate could go on indefinitely, without adding any real value, and hence the committee’s comment in the foreword to the Standard:
‘This is a process Standard designed to guide decision-making on flood risk.  It is not a technical, prescriptive, or performance-based Standard.  In this sense, NZS 9401 is the first of its kind and a Standard that will benefit from practical experience in applying it to real life situations, and events.  The next revision of the Standard will be greatly helped by feedback from decision-makers, stakeholders, and communities.  This input will inform and improve the next edition of NZS 9401.  It should be sent to the address given…’.

There is widespread support from all the nominating organisations and key stakeholders for the new Standard.  Feedback shows a clear wish to improve New Zealand's approach to flood risk management, and supports a process-based Standard to assist with better decision-making, and to reduce the risk of damage over time.

Published in business and ICT.

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