Hawke's Bay Regional Council is looking at ways of better protecting Wairoa from future storm devastation of the sort that occurred in late March.
Environment and integrated catchment committee chairwoman Hinewai Ormsby says the council is enabling the community to take proactive measures to be more resilient, with initial steps such as assessing erosion-control planting needs, and stabilising part of the Wairoa River bank in the western area of the town using steel sheet piles, which is being done as part of a broader strengthening of stopbanks around the region.
Councillors recently visited the area, including Riverina Station, which was severely affected by the March flooding, Marumaru Tātau Tātau o Te Wairoa, Whakakī and a flood restoration site by the Wairoa River, and "woolshed" workshops with farmers are proposed to fully assess the storms' impacts on them and their operations.
The regional council, Wairoa District Council, Gisborne District Council, GNS and Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research are collecting high-quality satellite imagery to assess the impact of the recent weather events, including identifying the scale and number of landslides from the two weather events to understand which areas are susceptible to landslides.
The district was hit by heavy rain in February and March, with over 1000mm of rainfall reported in parts of the district in the bigger and longer-lasting March event, causing damage regarded as worse than benchmark calamity Cyclone Bola in March 1988.
There was more but shorter-lived rainfall as the area was threatened with Cyclone Fili in April.
Ormsby said further intense and frequent rainfall events like the March flood could be expected with climate change.
"This has highlighted the importance of taking preventative measures and we are supporting the community in this – through our planting programmes and direct engagement with landowners," she said.
"There are significant benefits in planting natives, particularly on steep hill country to mitigate against natural events like this, and contribute to carbon sequestration for our region and country," Ormsby said.
"It was eye-opening and devastating to see exposed land on such a scale with deep scarring veins created down the landscape," she said. "We all wondered how we can help this whenua heal and ultimately, how we can work with landowners to support tree planting to help them prepare for future events."
"It's about recovery and safety while planning for the long term to ensure certainty and protection for our land, waterways and community livelihoods."
Wairoa catchment staff are working with landowners to support them in their flood recovery, and to understand the impacts on their farm and their wellbeing, and working with other agencies to develop the woolshed workshops.
They are also assessing erosion control planting needs for winter and prioritising storm-affected areas for pole planting, and a business case is being prepared in conjunction with Wairoa District Council summarising key issues for farmers to apply to a government recovery fund.
In future, the regional council's planting programmes, such as Right Tree Right Place, are likely to make the most difference as this programme in the longer term will ensure planting of erodible areas at a large scale.