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History of the Hutt River

History of the Hutt River

Updated 23 December 2014 5:19pm


The Hutt River at Maoribank circa 1880

The Hutt River has a long history of flooding. European settlement began in the Hutt Valley around 1840, and although the dangers of flooding delayed widespread settlement, within 40 years the forests which covered the entire floodplain had been cleared to make way for development. For thousands of years these forests had controlled the river alignment, the processes of erosion and sediment transport, and the force of the river in flood. Deforestation upset the natural balances within the river system, resulting in rapid changes in river alignment and flooding became a threat to life and property in the area.

A long history of floods

In 1855, after experiencing flooding, many Hutt Valley settlers moved to Wellington. In 1898 a major flood covered the entire valley floor. This led to the construction of the first major stopbanks to protect Hutt residents, some of which are still there today.

The document below is an extract describing serious floods which occured between 1920 and 1953.

Floods in New Zealand 1920-53 : with notes on some earlier floods (1957) C.A Cowie, Wellington New Zealand, The Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Council (p 133-139) - uploaded with the permission of The Royal Society of New Zealand

Early flood management techniques

Ongoing river management works have been required to maintain the river alignment, manage the accumulation of river gravel and contain the erosive forces of the river in flood. From 1865 until the 1960s little consideration was given to the impacts of mechanical methods or the use of river engineering structures that were used to manage the river. These methods led to a severe deterioration of the river environment.

Since 1972, river management techniques have been changed to re-establish vegetative bank-edge protection and healthy riparian ecology. This has been achieved by careful mangement of gravel extraction and by planting fast-growing exotic trees (mainly willows). All new river works are designed to minimise environmental effects, increase the use of native vegetation within the river corridor, and to enhance the river landscape.

A publication by The Wellington Regional Council - The Hutt River - A Modern History - 1840-1990 details works carried out during this period. It has been split into chapters which are available for download on the right of this page. (In order to shrink the file sizes suitable for download, some images have lost quality, but if you would like to view a hardcopy of the publication it is available to view in the Regional Council Centre at 142 Wakefield St, Wellington).