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Environmental Planning Professor tackles water issues

29 January 2014

Floods are becoming harder to manage by trying to hold water back behind flood defences, so it’s time to look at how to defend against them at the building and community level.

This is the view of Professor Iain White who joined the University of Waikato’s Environment Planning Programme from the University of Manchester in July 2013.

Professor White says climate change is making weather events more extreme, and escalating urbanisation is changing catchment behaviour so rivers are expected to manage more water than ever before. In addition there are more and more surface water flooding events occurring.

“This is where flooding occurs through inadequate drainage in the urban area after heavy precipitation. In this case flooding is impossible to defend against with a wall by a river as the problem may not even reach the river.”

Professor White believes there are cost-effective ways to protect smaller settlements which may not warrant a big defence, or houses which are subject to flooding from poor drainage.

Technologies can be fitted to homes and businesses, or temporary barriers can be put up around communities in a reactive fashion in response to weather predictions. The knowledge is there for properties to be kept dry in water up to around a 600mm in depth. This means that all but the worst floods can be managed. It is not a replacement for flood defence, rather a way to protect the areas where flood defences cannot reach or where it is not cost effective to do so.

Some of the ideas to produce flood-proof buildings include installing door and window guards and flood doors to prevent water entering through doors and windows, and installing sump and pump systems in basements in areas where there is surface and ground-water.

“As far as I am aware there is no one else doing this type of research in New Zealand,” says Professor White.

“Surface water flooding is an emerging area here and this is a problem we are just starting to grapple with.”

Professor White lectures in three papers at the University of Waikato: “Planning for Sustainability”, “Strategic Spatial Planning” and “Advanced Planning Theory”. His research focus is in environmental planning, adaptation to climate change and the effective management of water in society.

Professor White has also just finished a large international interdisciplinary project researching the development of flood-resilient buildings – looking at technical and design considerations, the materials involved in creating buildings that will withstand floods and what it might mean for people and planning.

His work appears in numerous publications and Professor White is now working on a second book due for publication in 2014 “Environmental Planning, Politics and Policy”. His first book, “Water and the City”, was published in 2010. He has also been appointed as Chair of the Hamilton City Council Sustainability Panel.


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