It was a bumpy start to the NSW floodplain management meetings, with a media release sent on Wednesday for meetings starting the next day. An incorrect venue was listed on the Department’s website for the Friday meeting in Barham. All was not lost though, my aimlessly walking the streets resulting in a chance to help a motorist out of trouble.
Having found the meeting place, there were a lonely three souls in attendance, outnumbered two to one by department staff. While only three souls, their wisdom was invaluable.
The meeting’s aim is to develop a new floodplain management plan, building on the plans under the 1912 Water Act and bringing them under the more recent Water Management Act 2000.
“So, we’re updating them, building on what’s already there,” said Peter Hyde, acting director for Floodplain Management for DPE Water.
“What we’re doing on these tours coming up is to listen to issues people have with the current plans or issues that might have occurred in the latest flood.
“We’re then trying to collect some good information that people have on the ground.
“We’ve got lots of satellite information, and LIDAR from our flights and things like that, but there’s been a lot of information collected over the last six months. People have photos and stuff like that and that just helps us as we’re developing our floodplain models and to ground truth.
“It’s really important that we get everything right before we start developing new plans.”
Rodney Dunn was one of the landholders in the meeting and spoke of the dramatic changes that can result from works on the floodplains.
“This year’s floods, we saw extra flows that now come through the Koondrook Perricoota Forest and the way it came down the river and was pushed west from the Gee Gee Bridge because of the culverts not in the roadways.
“There used to be three culverts there and now there is only one, and the roadways are put up a lot higher.
“We were totally marooned for eight weeks down Officers Road, because the flood heights came up so quick in the Waddy Creek and it couldn’t go anywhere, it was a headache for everyone.
“We survived, that’s one thing, but we learnt a lot. The flood at our place was probably five inches higher than the 1994 floods.”
Mr Dunn said in recent years, timber bridges that once stood above flood heights have been replaced with steel and concrete bridges that impede flood flows or even sit well below flood height, resulting in them being fully submerged, even in a minor flood.
“One bridge at the back that was put in when the Wakool Shire was in vogue had the pile work and steel work put in at the proper height, but when they came to put the deck on, they cut it in half and put a low level one on. Now, a 1,000 megalitre flow goes over the top of it!
“It was built in 2015, and it was only there one year before it had a flood over it.”
Landholder and chair of the Wakool River Association, John Lolicato knows how small changes to the floodway flows can have serious consequences.
“It’s good they made the effort to come down here and consult.
“It’s a damn shame there weren’t more people here.
“This is probably the sixth or seventh time that we’ve worked on flood management plans and landholders actually are getting to the stage, that ‘here we go again’ type scenario.
“I’ve stressed at the meeting today they’ve got to take a different path because people are over opening up and giving them all the information and data and then nothing happens.
“You get to a flood and it ends up being whoever’s got the biggest dozer or the biggest amount of money that actually survives the floods.
“The people that do the right thing, abide by the licence levies and all the rest of it, they actually get extra pressure from illegal levies being put in place.
“Hopefully, they took that message on board. Co-ordinated floodplain management is pretty important for our area and they have tried to assure us that that’s what they’re there for.”
Mr Lolicato said it is disappointing that organisations haven’t come together to learn and debrief from last year’s event.
“One of my biggest criticisms of the way the last flood was handled is that there was a lot of lessons that could have been learned from it.
“There was a real need to have a debrief. I’ve tried pushing the Murray River Council for it, they’ve agreed that there is a need for it. So far, nothing’s happened.
“The same thing with these guys, really emphasised how important it was to have a debrief after these floods and hopefully, the next time, we won’t make the same mistakes. It’s essential to have that sort of stuff.”
This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 22 June 2023.