NIWA Reports on NZ’s River Flooding Exposure

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The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) report titled “New Zealand Fluvial and Pluvial Flood Exposure” provides a flooding profile and study of the country’s flood hazard.

It stated that the number of insurance claims indicates that flooding events in New Zealand are increasing. Flooding has been the most frequent and damaging natural hazard since the late 20th century.

It is expected that climate change will bring in more intense and frequent rainfall and sea-level rise that can increase flood inundation risks across New Zealand, the NIWA report says.

According to the report, New Zealand does not yet have a nationally consistent flood hazard map of populations and assets at risk to identify people and assets at risk in fluvial and pluvial flood plains.  

Importance of the flood hazard area map (FHLA)

The report addresses this challenge by creating a composite flood hazard area map (FHLA) from modelled and historic flood hazard maps and flood-prone soil maps publicly available in August 2018.

Through these composite flood hazard area maps, elements at risk were identified and enumerated in the report. This includes populations, buildings, transport infrastructure, electricity infrastructure, three-waters infrastructures and land cover.

These maps show the areas and populations with the highest exposure in populous regions like Auckland, Waikato, Wellington, and Canterbury. With Canterbury the having the highest exposed assets and people. The report also shows the production land most exposed in essential dairy and pastoral production regions, including Waikato, Canterbury, and Southland.

The national flood hazard area (FHLA) map shows each region’s estimated population, built assets, land cover, and transport infrastructure exposure, and the New Zealand building and replacement value of those assets exposed to flooding hazards.

Climate change and flood hazards

NIWA has previously assessed possible effects of climate change on agricultural water resources and flood flows in New Zealand.

The report mentions the links between climate change to flood hazards. To determine this, the mean annual flood (MAF) discharge is analyzed under 4 representative pathway scenario (RCP) for the 2036 to 2056 and 2086 to 2099 periods to determine the level of potential flood hazards to populations and assets in catchments areas sensitive to changes in mean annual flood (MAF) discharges. The results of future hazards from variations in MAF are discussed in the report.

Overall the report shows the following assets and population within New Zealand’s potential flood hazard area.

These include 20 thousand square km of approximately 675 thousand resident-occupied areas, 411 thousand buildings with a replacement value of NZD 135 billion as of 2016 replacement values, 19 thousand km of roads, over 1,500 km of railway, 20 airports, and 1,397 km of transmission lines, and more than 21 thousand km of three-water pipelines.

Recommendation of the study

The study recommends a national-scale exposure assessment for both present-day and future exposures. This includes:

  • improving and extending flood hazard model using high-resolution topographic data that incorporate important features like stopbanks, culverts, and bridges which influence flood hazard characteristics; and
  • updated and improved population spatial data sets, building spatial data set, infrastructure spatial datasets, and land cover spatial datasets that include more categories or layers of information for example buildings are categorized as rest homes, schools, etc in building spatial data sets.

Browse the entire report by clicking on the link provided at the “Source Citation”.

 Source Citation:

Paulik, R., Craig, H., & Collins, D. (2019, June). New Zealand Fluvial and Pluvial Flood Exposure. National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research Ltd. The Deep South Challenge. Retrieved from

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