One year since Moerewa was swamped by floodwaters progress is finally being made in preventing the natural disasters which have hammered the town four times since 2007.
While the three projects either completed or about to start won't mean the town will never be flooded again, they should make floods much less frequent.
On July 17 last year parts of Northland were hit by 220mm of rain in 10 hours, on top of heavy rainfall in preceding days.
It was described as a ''one-in-500-year'' event, flooding homes, stranding travellers, contaminating streets, and damaging 160 roads in the Far North alone. State Highway 1 only reopened in the Mangamuka Gorge last month.
The worst-hit places were Moerewa and Ōtiria where locals were hit by similar floods in 2007, 2011 and 2014.
However, there's hope for flood-weary residents with a number of flood-mitigation projects either completed or recently granted funding.
The first to be finished was by Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, which spent $850,000 clearing and widening a bottleneck in Ōtiria Stream downstream of the Turntable Hill bridge on SH1.
The work gives the stream room to spread out instead of flooding the bridge and cutting off a crucial transport link. It passed its first test in last month's heavy rain.
Further up the valley, west of Ōtiria, the Northland Regional Council is about to start a much bigger project.
Locals have told the Advocate that Moerewa's water woes are caused by floodwater spilling from the Ōtiria and Waiharakeke streams and flowing straight down the valley through town.
The problem has been made worse over the years by the construction of roads, a railway line and a narrow bridge over the Waiharakeke.
The council's $5 million plan involves building a spillway to divert water from the floodplain into the Waiharakeke at a point where the stream bed is big enough to handle the volume.
The bridge at Pokapu Rd may also be widened to improve flow and a section of Ngapipito Rd will be shifted.
More than half the cost, $2.89m, will come from the Government's Provincial Growth Fund, with the rest covered by ratepayers via a regional rate and a targeted local rate.
Regional councillor Justin Blaikie, who chairs the Taumārere Flood Management Working Group, cautioned against thinking Moerewa would never flood again once the spillway was built.
It would be designed to withstand a one-in-100-year flooding event, but if Moerewa was hit by rain on the scale that inundated Westport last week the town would still flood.
''There will still be a risk of natural disaster — all communities face that — but this will significantly reduce the frequency of floods,'' Blaikie said.
Funding had been approved for 2021-23 but it was too early to say when work would start. Consents were required and negotiations, including with KiwiRail, were ongoing.
Blaikie acknowledged it had taken a long time and said the council was ''incredibly grateful'' to the Ōtiria and Moerewa communities for their patience.
He was also grateful to hapū and community representatives — including Wiremu Keretene, Mike Butler and Murray Armstrong — who had provided local knowledge and helped guide the design work.
''Through local knowledge we've ended up with a much better engineering design. They've been frustrated at times at the slow progress but credit to them for sticking in there, and hopefully we're going to get a very good outcome.''
Moerewa would, however, still face sewage contamination issues any time it flooded because the town relied entirely on septic tanks.
He called on the Far North District Council to make good on a commitment to set up a working group to look for solutions.
Other projects in the pipeline include improved drainage in low-lying Plunket Ave in Moerewa, which will be funded by the regional and district councils, and a regional council flood deflection bank in Kawakawa.
The $550,000 floodbank is due to be built in 2024-25 to protect businesses along Old Whangae Rd, next to the Star Hotel. It has been scaled back from the original proposal which would have cost $1.5m and required pumping stations.
Further afield the regional council is planning a flood mitigation wall in Tarewa Rd, Whangārei, at a cost of $250,000; and Kaitaia's $15m Awanui River flood protection upgrade will be completed in three years instead of eight thanks to $8.5m of ''shovel ready'' government funding.
■ A ''one-in-100-year event'' doesn't mean something that occurs precisely once every 100 years. It means an event that has a 1 per cent chance of occurring in any given year.
Flood-weary locals welcome spillway plan
The owner of the worst-affected house on the worst-affected street in Moerewa says he's pleased authorities are ''finally'' taking action to stop the floods that regularly ravage the town.
Skip Kidwell said his Pembroke St property flooded roughly every four years, but July 2020 was the first time water came up through the floorboards into the house. His car, washing machine, TV and furniture were wrecked.
He wanted to see the Government do more to help locals prepare for floods instead of just showing up afterwards during the clean-up.
''But it's good to see them start to do something about it, to take the water thing seriously, even if it has taken four floods.''
The best thing about the 2020 flood response was the Kawakawa Fire Brigade pumping out his property. In the past his low-lying property had turned into a lake that took days, even weeks, to drain.
''Last time my house was dry at the same time as everyone else,'' he said.
Moerewa kaitiaki Wiremu Keretene is one of the local residents liaising between the Northland Regional Council, engineers and the community.
He said most landowners were on board with the council's flood prevention plan though a few issues still needed to be sorted out.
''But definitely the majority of whānau are happy that something's going to happen,'' he said.
Locals had been frustrated at the time it had taken but setting up the Taumārere Flood Management Working Group had been a positive move because it gave people an avenue to raise any concerns. He expected work to start at the end of this year or early 2022.
It was one of many positive developments in the town, he said.
After years of concern about speeding and crashes in Moerewa, speed bumps had been installed in Taumatamakuku and a raised pedestrian crossing built on the main street.
Ōtiria Rd would soon get a raft of safety improvements and a new park was being developed on what had been an overgrown paper road.
Keretene said many residents had been sceptical that Waka Kotahi's work at Turntable Hill would fix flooding at the bridge but the first signs, during last month's heavy rain, were promising.
Also hard hit in the July 2020 flood was Ōtiria Rugby Club where silt and water filled the uninsurable clubrooms.
Since then, however, the club has seen a remarkable turnaround in its fortunes.
In August Ōtiria won the Bay of Islands Championships for the first time since 1961; then a Provincial Growth Fund grant allowed the club to fix its carpark, fence and rear doors which had rotted due to repeated floods. Another grant paid for new spouting and water tanks, making the club self-sufficient in water.
Also this season the number of junior teams has jumped from one to three thanks to committed parents.
Now all Ōtiria has to do to cap a spectacular year is to repeat its championship win.
''We hope to retain the title but we'll have to play better than we did last week,'' club captain Hone Townsend said.
Six Ōtiria players had been selected for a Bay-wide team taking on Mangonui this weekend.
The Bay of Islands semifinals would be played on August 14 and the finals on August 21.