The Flood and its Toll
Dorothy Mackellar’s famous poem of 1904, My Country, reminds us of the harsh beauty of our land and its unforgiving natural extremes. Reflecting on the events of last few years, the poem’s second stanza is worth repeating:
I love a sunburnt country
A land of sweeping plains
Of ragged mountain ranges
Of droughts and flooding rains
Merely a year earlier, following a withering drought, we saw bushfire ravaging the land as Warragamba dam fell to 42% of its capacity. Today, contrary to the doomsayers, it’s full again and now, as we’ve so horribly seen, has no capacity to hold back flooding rainfall should a high rainfall event recur. Faced with colossal damage from the recent flood, council staff targeted resources in contributing to the clean-up and assisted, where possible, the many residents who were so terribly affected.
My time on council as an elected delegate to Floodplain Management Australia (FMA) has exposed me time and again to the devastation wrought by floods, the cause of our greatest losses of life, property and commerce. Floods arrive seemingly from nowhere, wreak their havoc and disappear from our memory as blue skies emerge. FMA, as the nation’s peak flood body, constantly advocates for more funds for flood mitigation but we are still far behind flood proofing particularly our inhabited areas. What has especially alarmed me as I’ve learned more about flooding is that the potential intensity of rainfall is beyond everyday imagination. We are lulled into thinking that a so-called “one in a hundred year flood” is something that we need not worry about as it will likely not occur in our lifetime. The statistical reality is that such events can occur at any time and can even happen consecutively. Worse, events of biblical proportions considered one in five hundred or even one in a thousand years can happen with little warning.
Council’s modern development controls, in the face of population pressure and limited land availability, impose sensible restrictions on where and how development can occur but these same pressures have historically meant that many tens of thousands of people live in areas with limited flood evacuation routes and potential exposure to rainfall events exceeding the most recent one.
Council voted over a year ago to support the State Government’s proposal to raise Warragamba dam by at least 14 metres but the proposal remains in limbo as heritage and ecological arguments play out against the need to improve flood resilience for thousands. Contrary to misinformation, raising the wall is not intended to increase water storage but to provide retention of excessive rainfall before its controlled release onto the flood plain.
It is not practical to build any dam guaranteed to guard against the statistically possible “Probable Maximum Flood” but a raised Warragamba has the potential to significantly lessen flood potential for the many tens of thousands of residents in the ancient flood plain in the north of the Shire. Dorothy Mackellar’s poem should be uppermost in the minds of those thinking about flood mitigation in the catchment area.