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Resilient River Communities

Rivers to Schools Initiative

The Marlborough region often experiences flooding, and thanks to one very dedicated River Engineer the children at Rapaura School have a much better understanding of the cause of floods and the projects that are helping to protect the region.
Marlborough District Council

Council Rivers Project Engineer Andy White developed the ‘Rivers to Schools’ initiative which is a key part of Marlborough District Council's community programme under the three-year $5M Government and Council co-funded Resilient River Communities Wairau River Flood Protection Scheme.

“I wouldn’t say we’re normalising floods, but a key part of this initiative is telling the broader story of our rivers – not just the science, but the cultural, mythological, and sociological aspects that are essential for incorporating Te Mana o te Wai into the way we perceive, manage, and live with our awa”.

White who was a science and engineering ambassador in the UK, was happy to facilitate the session. He’d seen the impact of experiential learning in the UK so spent a weekend building a ‘stream table’.

“The table is something Universities use all the time to show the flow of rivers. Normally we’d do a Powerpoint, but kids enjoy hands on learning. I drew it up on auto CAD, went home and bought all the materials and basically over the weekend built the table. On Monday we filled it up with sand, got the pump going and away we went”.

White says that the table helps students understand the more complex aspects of flooding.

“The first experiment shows how rivers form, we get them to put some dye in and watch the different parts of the river to see where all the different braids are. Then we ‘develop’ the land, placing houses and schools onto the land. And then we put a flood on, and the kids get excited because they get to watch the houses wash away. Once the storm subsides, we talk about what we’re going to do next time it floods – it brings home the reality”.

The table helps students learn about how rivers form their pathways, and how the Wairau Bar in particular was created. White also takes the children through how braided rivers are formed, how stopbanks are breached, the speed rivers flow, where stopbanks are needed and the importance of flood prevention and protection, among other topics. He says that the response from pupils, teachers, and parents has been extremely positive with the children producing a book of thank you letters, and a film of their experiences.


Marlborough District Council is a unitary authority, which means it also has the functions and powers of a regional council.