The problem was clear for everyone to see when Te Horo Beach was cut off by flooding in early December.
A public meeting at The Bus Stop Café on February 2 revealed that the solution – and just who might be responsible for finding one – was as murky as the floodwaters.
The meeting was an opportunity for residents and farmers to hear from elected members and staff of Greater Wellington Regional Council, who manage the problematic Mangaone Stream, and Kāpiti Coast District Council, who look after the infrastructure of the Te Horo community.
And the disparate roles inevitably gave rise to voiced concerns that the two bureacracies were simply passing the buck for responsibility.
Regional council flood protection manager Graeme Campbell began the meeting by saying the floods that isolated beach residents for nearly three days was not significant in terms of the rainfall or flow in the streams.
“We had no more than 10mm an hour, which is not huge,” he said.
Most of the rain fell on the land between the highway and the beach, rather than in the headwaters of the Mangaone, and floodwaters built up with nowhere to go.
It was recognised by all the speakers, however, that the stream couldn’t take the water flowing through it and simply spilled over Te Horo Beach Road and neighbouring farmland. A big issue appeared to be the build-up of weeds that clogged the waterways. Residents said as soon as diggers could clear the stream, the waters subsided.
Ensuring the Mangaone and Jewell streams were cleared regularly – along with other mitigation works – was problematic for the regional council.
Graeme said the council was bound by good practice guidelines and the National Policy Statement for Freshwater 2020, which prescribed what the council could and couldn’t do.
“We can’t just clear out the weeds from the stream and the banks,” he said.
There was, however, an opportunity for residents to have a say in what the council might do in future because it was applying for a new resource consent for stream works. Graeme urged residents and farmers to submit their ideas.
KCDC infrastructure manager Sean Mallon noted that one proposed solution had been to raise the height of Te Horo Beach Road.
“That would be expensive,” he said, and it might not fix the problem.
A bund along the stream banks was another suggestion, but Ōtaki ward councillor James Cootes, also a beach resident, pointed out that could just mean water flowing elsewhere and affecting other properties.
James said that without a storm-water system, Te Horo Beach relied on sumps to deal with surplus water, which were cleared regularly. He had already asked his council if more sumps could be installed, and Sean confirmed it was being investigated before the flooding.
“While we’re reviewing what happened here, we’ll be investigating all possible solutions, such as the road and bunds,” James said.
There was also discussion about the implications of the beach being cut off for residents needing to be evacuated from flooded homes, or requiring urgent medical care.
“What if we had a medical emergency?” someone asked.
Sean said as part of the review, an emergency access road to the beach area would be looked at.
KCDC access and transport asset manager Mark Martin said flooding in early December throughout Kāpiti had activated the Emergency Operations Centre. The centre responded to the needs of people in other areas of the region who had to be evacuated.
“If Te Horo Beach people needed help, we would have responded,” he said. “Our first priority is always people’s lives, and homes that have to be evacuated.”