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Home > Our region and environment > Rivers and Drainage > Sustainable River Schemes

Sustainable River Schemes

Upper Catchment - Rangitaiki RiverThe Regional Council's Rivers and Drainage schemes protect our communities from changes in the river environment such as flooding, bank erosion, and river pathway changes. You can read more about the rivers and drainage schemes for the eight major rivers emptying into the Bay of Plenty - the Wairoa, Kaituna, Tarawera, Rangitaiki, Whakatane, Waioeka, Motu and the Raukokore river.

These schemes do an excellent job protecting millions of dollars of land and property throughout the region.

But these schemes are facing significant changes in the environment (for example climate change, rising sea levels, land use changes, and more extreme weather events) and we know that in light of these changes it is not sustainable to build ever higher stop banks. We need to consider all the options available for our communities in the long term.

Regional Council has a significant project (the River Scheme Sustainability project) to take a step back and take a new look at how we can manage our river schemes in the long term. 

One of the key elements of the project will be the development of catchment-wide alternative options for managing the rivers so that the existing River Schemes can be maintained or improved. It is about blue-sky thinking and new approaches to how we manage our flood risk.


Significant science sits behind some of the assumptions that the project builds on.

Climate and weather cycles

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), is a New Zealand Crown Research Institute and a trusted source of modelling and impact assessments for climate change in New Zealand. This includes use of international data from the IPCC and their own data and modelling.

You can find out more about their climate change projections for New Zealand and a summary of the likely impacts. You can also read more about what this is likely to mean right here in the Bay of Plenty.

Rangitaiki Plains inundation levelsThe Ministry for the Environment also has a great resource showing New Zealand’s approach to how we are dealing with changes to our climate - ‘New Zealand’s framework for adapting to climate change’. At just four pages, it is a great place to start for an overview of the national approach.

While there is still significant public debate about climate change (such as this recent article here in the Bay of Plenty), the River Scheme Sustianability project uses conservative and scientifically-backed estimates to help the Bay of Plenty prepare for a different future in 100 years.

The image to the left (NOTE CAN"T CURRENTLY USE) shows the areas of the Rangitaiki Plains already below Mean Sea Level and protected by the existing river scheme assets like stopbanks and pump stations. Even a small increase in mean sea level or other changes in our climate (increased likelihood of storm surges or more frequent rain events) will put added stress on these assets. We need to plan now for these changes as the options may be expensive, long term or take significant time to implement.

Water quality data

Land, Air, Water Aotearoa (LAWA) is a collaboration between New Zealand’s 16 regional and unitary councils and the Cawthron Institute, Ministry for the Environment and Massey University with the support of the Tindall Foundation.

The LAWA site brings together environmental monitoring data from all of New Zealand’s regional councils, NIWA, and the Ministry for the Environment. It is well presented and easy to search.

Water Whisperers screen shotAn iwi perspective 

For a fantastic insight into the work of 10 communities in NZ as they seek to heal damaged waterways and protect them for future generations watch Maori TV's Water Whisperers: Tangaroa

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