Getting with the new programme

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    There are times when one can question the wisdom of building your house among trees that were to mature into a handsome stand of kahikatea and alongside a charming watercourse down through a coastal valley.

    With floodwaters already over two bridges that cross the usually dry streambed, Tuesday night was one of them.

    There is a secret exhilaration at the power of it all, of course, and I was prepared to find jandals floating in the bathroom next morning and mud caking the carpet in the dining room.

    Such is the power of a catastrophising imagination engendered by the instant footage that floods (literally) into our living rooms so regularly in the news hours these days, I moved drawers of papers up a few feet as a precaution and left the car out past the foot-deep water on the beachfront where the front drive had been.

    In low-lying Blackpool, the deep open drains had disappeared, the water flattening the contours as it brimmed and roiled at road level, putting the bay’s fertile flats under water.

    Further along the beach, Waiheke’s volunteer fire brigade was pumping water into the small hours.

    Meanwhile Queensland’s tropical cyclone Debbie was renewing her fury from unusually warm water in the Tasman Sea and rolling into further battle with an already impressive collection of isobars south-east of the country.

    The extraordinarily concentrated dumps of water and severe flooding we are coming to know as these new weather patterns settle in are salutory, with lessons to be learned and robust plans to be made.

    We are extraordinarily lucky in our uniformed services and we certainly owe the island’s volunteer fire fighters a big bash in thanks for their seemingly inexhaustible willingness to be turned out of their lives, jobs and beds in our defence.

    The cohesion among local leaders is also a plus, robust enough to be generating the will to get us through, despite official inertia. That Waiheke barely exists for the busy hives of various sealed-off council departments is a pretty obvious outcome of a distant and fractured council structure and our minimal control of our rates dollars.

    Waiheke has its small scale ‘built environment’ for a reason. Our steep slopes don’t cope well with the concentrated runoff from a new generation of large houses and expanses of hard surfaces.

    Wholesale tree removal on steep building sites also make it a lottery for neighbours as the extra water carves willful channels to the sea.

    The further round of flooding this week, and some of the lessons now coming out of the March floods (stories this issue) highlight the need for us to get down and seriously intentional if we as a community are to rebuild the sort of resilience we want for ourselves. Waiting for the Auckland Council money tree’s annual budget rounds is not going to re-spec the culverts in various public places, or pay any attention to road-side runoff hurtling under the foundations.

    The malign neglect that the Esplanade has suffered in the name of ‘shared space’ won’t solve itself. There’s little enough protection for householders when it comes to runoff, either from neighbours or the island’s roads and disappearing swales.

    Overall, we have to accept that the mythical ‘they’ that we once expected to take care of local infrastructure no longer exist. If we are to be a viable community able to deal with these and bigger changes in the future, we will have to redesign our individual and collective headspaces to again act as our brother’s keeper; to consider the ‘we’ – rather than the ‘I’ – of it all. • Liz Waters

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