Extreme weather events, like last week’s flash flooding in Auckland, are becoming more frequent. The Detail asks if there’s anything more we can do to protect ourselves and our homes.

Forget about putting bigger pipes underground to stop a repeat of the damaging flash flooding that hit Auckland last week.  

In most cases, it wouldn’t have made a difference, says flood expert Jon Rix, the head of the water engineering team at environmental and engineering consultancy Tonkin + Taylor.  

The torrential downpour turned roads into rivers, backyards into lakes and left tens of thousands of properties flooded

Rix works with councils and other public sector agencies, as well as private companies, on flood mapping, risks and strategies. 

“There are situations where bigger pipes will help, but in the majority of cases across the Auckland region, I would say bigger pipes would not necessarily lead to much smaller flood events,” he says.

What’s happening above ground is more important, Rix says, and individuals and neighbourhoods need to be better prepared as extreme weather events become more frequent. 

Communities hit hard by flooding in recent years, such as Westport and Edgecumbe, know there’s no easy solution to the problem. 

The issues New Zealand faces are not unique, and Rix believes there are lessons from overseas that can be applied here. 

“Increasingly there’s been a move away from engineered-based solutions. The importance of community, communication and the decision-making process is much more apparent overseas, but also increasingly in New Zealand,” he says. 

When last week’s flooding hit, Rix was out taking photos in his seaside suburb of St Heliers, so he could match it up with his own flood modelling. 

He was “relieved to see” that all the areas where he saw flooding were predicted to flood. 

But a much bigger shock was to come, as the ferocious storm moved south and hit Tairāwhiti – causing damage way beyond what Auckland felt

It is yet another reminder that severe flooding is likely to hit parts of the country more often. 

Rix says there’s no excuse for not being prepared – the information is there for people to find out where the flood hazards are found and to learn about whether their homes sit on flood plains and flow paths. 

There are plenty of guides on council and government websites about how to protect your home against flooding. 

Here are some of the best: 

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Sharon Brettkelly is co-host of The Detail podcast.

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