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September 22, 2023

A new levee and river remodelling for Lismore?

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Photo taken March 1, 2022 showing the levee completely underwater. The levee goes along the river on CBD side. Wilsons River is in the foreground, Bridge Street is underwater on each end of the bridge, Browns Creek pumping station is almost submerged just below the centre of this image. Photo David Lowe.

In the flurry following last week’s flood event, Lismore Mayor Steve Krieg told media that there will be a new levee for Lismore as well as remodelling of the Wilsons River.

In Sunday’s Sydney Morning Herald Mayor Krieg said that ‘Council has unreleased plans to raise the existing levee on the eastern bank of the Wilson’s River and build another levee on the Western side.’

He also said that excavating existing river bends would help speed up the exit of floodwater from the city. ‘If we don’t do it we die as a city. Simple as that.’

Lismore Floodplain Management Committee

Lismore Councillor Vanessa Ekins who has been on the Lismore Floodplain Management Committee for many years says that Cr Krieg had outlined some of the options. ‘These are mitigation options explored by the floodplain committee and several options have been put on public display for comment.

‘The most viable options include removing the railway viaduct in south Lismore, lowering the riverbank south of Albert Park and widening causeways under the Bruxner Highway.

No effect in major flood

Man and woman near Lismore floodwaters
Lismore floodwaters receding, 2 March 2022. Looking down Uralba Street towards flooded CBD. Photo David Lowe.

‘It is important to note that none of these strategies will have any effect in a major flood like the one we have just experienced. These mitigation strategies are to minimise the impact of minor and moderate flooding.’

Cr Ekins said we need other strategies for major floods, like, evacuating every time. ‘These are the conversations we will need to have with our community soon. It is not the Mayor’s decision and there is a lot of technical information that needs to be comprehended.

‘I chaired the Floodplain Committee and we worked hard on understanding how water moves through the floodplain and what infrastructure is possible. A bigger levee is expensive and extremely dangerous for everyone living in the floodplain and downstream of Lismore – they were rejected because building levees just forces more water onto people’s homes in north and south Lismore.’

People downstream are worried

Cr Ekins said the excavation of existing river bends has already been done outside Bunnings and there is a proposal for south of Albert Park. ‘But, the people downstream are worried that it sends water faster to them, and rightly so.’

Cr Ekins said that specialist engineers were engaged and the floodplain spent three years researching strategies for minor and moderate flooding.

‘There is nothing we can do about major floods.’


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  1. I’m sorry. You’re on the flood plain committee and you say there is nothing we can do. Ekins needs to get her nose out of the trough and resign immediately. Stand aside so someone who actually has vision can make something happen.

  2. ‘There is nothing we can do about major floods.’ What a comment to make, Is it we can’t or we don’t want to ?!?!?

    Of course we can do things to stop moderate and major flooding, we must introduce modern engineering solutions to Lismore, nothing is impossible. Planting more trees in the catchment (as much this a great idea for other reasons) won’t stop the deluge of water coming down off the existing forested mountains.

    Look at Holland, they did not flood significantly in the big floods in Europe last year, look at Java in Indonesia, they are relocating an entire city to another island due to coastal flooding and subsidence. Why can’t we do something in Australia without all the negative people coming out saying NO to everything that might be a significant change.

    Its this attitude of “we can’t do anything” which will lead us to repeated results into the future. We need to think big picture here, if south and north lismore are too far adversely impacted by a bigger levy wall to protect the CBD, then move these houses to north lismore plateau, give them a plot of land to relocate their houses. Its not actually that crazy, when you see what the cost / benefits really are compared to repeated flooding over decades and decades, lets thing long term here.

    We must protect the CBD with a much bigger levy or else we won’t have a city. Vanessa, do you want Lismore to fail as a regional Hub, what of the university, the businesses, the arts culture, the food restaurants, the shops ?

    I and others are absolutely appalled by this response and it shouldn’t be published by the Echo at a time when people want change (that is why they voted heavily against the greens last election), lets think about positive solutions no matter the cost, no matter the scale, no matter the man power, we must not repeat this disaster again founded on poor attitudes and lack of will.

    • Wow, the last poll went “heavily” against the Greens… I don’t know if you noticed, but both of the Green reps were re-elected…
      There is literally “nothing” we can do about major floods. 28/02/22 was 2.4m higher than anything else on (reliable) record; I promoted the alternative to the Levee being to spend the money lifting town up a floor back in the 90’s.
      I would have assumed 13m and up would be safe… I’d have been wrong.
      I’m glad a new study is being conducted by a (hopefully) independent CSIRO. All previous studies, “models,” and investigations are now irrelevant. We need a new benchmark from experts, not polluticians.
      The terms of their inquiry will be very important, however, what will be excluded from consideration?
      – the EIS produced by the 95 study, (the second version, not the first which got withdrawn rather quickly after many responses from the community,) is an exception in “some” areas. It clearly points out the limitations and dangers of just about everything being suggested – except the idea, with government help and sponsorship, of moving everyone they can. up the hills.

  3. Unbelievable!!!!! Thankyou Vanessa for your sanity at this time.
    Krieg (and media) should go and look at the debris line at the rocky creek dam wall.
    You think the levee overtopping is a disaster? Do you know how close we got to the regional water supply overtopping??????
    My parents were told to evacuate, red alert, first time ever, in 40 years living beside rocky creek, by Rous Water on Sunday night because there was a strong chance the dam would fail.
    I went and looked at the dam myself two days ago. I am frightened. This is no longer a nightmare fantasy in the far flung future.
    Rous should be showing us their modelling of worst case scenarios and their likelihood.
    How many other big dams along the east coast pose a similar risk?
    Climate chaos is here NOW.

  4. Levees and attempts to control the water? The amount of water in this instance proves we have no idea of what future events may hold or what is safe!

    Acquire land in the surrounding hills at rural prices, re-zone and grant to flood affected residents. Their land now is worthless as residential habitat.

    Pays to remember Govt “acquired” this land from the the original owners (didn’t use their knowledge), then on-sold it to the people, approved their Development Applications (DA’s), pick up stamp duty and tax on sales, and charge yearly rates and land tax for the privilege.

    The “magic” wealth creation tool that is zoning changes, will help fund compensation to be shared by the people affected.

  5. I worked on floodplain management in the Riverina when i was a water policy officer with NSW Ag. Every levee put up, legally or illegally had a severe downstream and upstream impact. You can;t just look at a town and redesign the system to suit. It’s a series of compromises to try to get the maximum benefit for all.
    Building higher levees is a no win situation since the floods involved would require extreme flow rates to avoid over topping of the levee – goodbye downstream towns and people.
    The best management impact is to replant trees and shrubs in the catchment to try to slow down the runoff from storms, but there are storms and storms. Some you just can;t control.
    Extra dams sounds like a good (but very expensive) idea except that if you build the dam for flood mitigation, it has to be kept nearly empty ‘just in case’ – by the time we realised we had a potential flood problem, it was far too late to release significant volumes of water to be able to impact on downstream flood flows. This is the problem Sydney is facing with its main dam.
    The other issue we need to face up to is that the historic data of flood flow frequency, etc, is now out of date – not quite useless, but certainly unable to predict events – Why? Climate change has altered the impacts and frequency of severe weather events – what was once a 1 in 500 year event (Lismore s flood assessment using historical data) now, under climate change impacts, may only be a 1 in 10 year flood!
    Ideally we need to shift the town center onto higher ground as was done years ago when housing in the now park area was bought out and removed; but where could you move to now? and How/ And who pays?, etc.
    My sympathies for all those impacted by the flood.

    • I don’t have expertise, as such, but I have knowledge. Your opening paragraph reassured me; someone with the qualifications speaking.
      It was interesting to be down with the Koorie Mail mob, and have a look at the plaques on the pumping station… they’re going to need to add two and a bit metres to that gauge now.
      Realistically, the only way to “save” the town is to move most of it uphill… but there is no way that most home owners could afford to do it.
      It needs government spending that might be considered – “Socialist” (Shock! Horror!) – that will help individuals, not corporations.

  6. The new mayor demonstrates that he has no real grasp of the geography of the Leycester/Wilson Rivers and the impact of the dual flooding, experienced a number of times, including in 1917.
    Next he will suggest a dam!
    The works mentioned by Cr Ekins are similar to a plan proposed by Dahl Singh about 60 years ago but not acted upon at that time.

    • Incredible huh? Donna pirlo ( whose business is right on the liester and Wilson river) told me the water began pouring thru her tyre shop from the west BEFORE the river even rose..

  7. I lived through the ’54 and ’74 floods in Lismore – my home was under what is now Lismore Square – and nothing that’s been done in the way of flood mitigation has proven worthwhile when the big ones come.

    The entire CBD and its adjacent residential areas ought to be demolished and turned to parklands, never again to be built on.

    I’d only accept a new levee when Krieg and his cohorts move to live in North or South Lismore.

    • Hi Lea, just for clarity
      – The Echo emailed many Lismore Councillors for feedback on this. In particular, we sought comment from Cr Ekins because of her extensive experience on the Lismore Floodplain Management Committee, NOT because of her experience as Mayor.

      Eve Jeffery – Echo Journalist

      • It’s no surprise over who you turn to for your opinionated articles, Eve.
        It’s in the same genre every time.

        • G’day (average sized?) Rob.
          Vanessa is an elected member of Council. There are clearly enough folk who thought she, and Cr Guise, represented them. Beyond that, She, like any other member of the community is free to comment on whatever the heck she likes.
          It seems to be a sticking point that all of those who ran for re-election were, in fact, re-elected – and they were either centre or left. What “was” the conservative majority crumbled under pressure, and disappointment, and disappeared, not one standing for re-election. No wonder there has been such a concerted effort… THE most negative campaign I have ever seen, vague innuendos, indirect accusations, – concerted, and funded to sow doubt.

    • Lea, Vanessa was voted onto Lismore Council, whether any of us likes it or not, so we should hear from her. Plus, she is right about this because she is right for the right reasons – she is listening to the hydrologists and engineers. Eve is right to respect listening to hydrologists and engineers

  8. We already have natural levees. They are called hills!

    We should plan our urban environments around them.

    Obviously we need to move the flood prone areas of Lismore to higher ground. The next flood will be coming soon.

  9. I am so proud of my community, once again the people of Lismore have come together in the face of life threatening disaster. When the extent of the flood became known and the Volunteers of the SES and other rescue organisations realised they would be unable to meet every call for help, there were over 1800 distress calls over 2 days, the call went out for private boat owners to come to the aid of their fellow citizens, and they responded in their hundreds and plucked many more hundreds of folk to safety. When the waters receded thousands of Lismore people turned up to help with the massive clean up operation. It is a truly magnificent effort.

    The only way to stop this calamity from being repeated is to remove the CBD, North and South Lismore onto the Plateau.
    The cost will be huge, but what is the cost of rebuilding and repairing the thousands of buildings damaged this time, the businesses destroyed and jobs gone ,only to have to do it again, and again? We have ignored the warnings of Climate Scientists for too long. The Climate Catastrophe is now with us and will be going into the future. The BoM is saying that there is a 70% chance of another flood in the next 3-4 months.
    Who will set up a business in the flood areas, and risk losing it all ? Will there be affordable insurance for property owners ?
    Mayor Krieg needs to take a step back, we are all in shock now. Let the enormity of this disaster sink in, and then make decisions for the whole community.

  10. I recall one of the railway bridges on the western edge of Lismore was removed following the 2017 flood event. In the years that followed however trees and large shrubs have established themselves where the spans once were. That spot has now become more of an obstruction than it ever was as a railway bridge, when water could still pass freely below it.

    Perhaps this example highlights the fact that any flood mitigation measure has to be adequately maintained if it is going to be done at all…

    Better yet, this recent flood event demonstrates that band-aid measures are increasingly becoming useless. They simply aren’t value for money. No combination of band-aid measures will stop any of the big floods. Any flood at ’74, ’54 or ’22 level will always cause damage and that damage cannot be avoided by just more mitigation measures.

    Plain and simple, the only flood-free future for Lismore is somewhere on a hill. It needs to move.

  11. Doesn’t council want to develop the north plateau? If it does then simply knock down the cbd, relocate it to the north plateau, refuse to pay a penny to any business that doesn’t relocate and turn the cbdbinto parkland.

    • Sounds simple, eh Ken?

      Open google (or other) Maps and explore the whole Wilson’s, Leycester, Goolmangar catchments back to the Nightcap, to west of Mullumbimby and out towards Kyogle. The BoM maps showing catchments are useful too. Lismore is tiny on that vast scale, but it’s where those rivers meet.

      Check out the size of the ‘Sleeping Lizard’ plateau, compared with the size of the CBD. Let alone plusp all of North, South and some of East Lismore. You’d have to cram everyone into skyscrapers, and those who want to live like that just don’t want to live in the country.

      Not to mention the billions it’d cost.

      There’s no quick fix. Planting many million of trees in the ~95% of the catchment cleared since the ~1850s timbergetters will slow the runoff mightily, but will take 20+ years to become effective, after getting past the deniers and naysayers.

      Those who imagine that there’s any simple engineering solution like bigger levees or dredging are using the same sort of thinking that got us here, yet again.

    • One plateau will not be enough.
      The hills and ridges need to be utilised, but folk have to be able to afford it. Only government subsidies can enable that.

    • Dunno…
      20 odd years of banging her head against a wall while she was constantly “outvoted.”
      Her long time of experience, and learning, being invaluable. Her ability to remain civil in the face of idiocy – mostly.
      Her extraordinary empathy, her enviable understanding of our community, and her ability to face adversity without repeatedly saying, “I told you so,” is pretty impressive…

  12. Vanessa has been trying to stop new housing development on the surrounding hills for years and the Echo has been strongly against new housing development on the north Lismore plateau as well!

    If we can’t flood proof the CBD or south and north lismore with a higher levee and we can’t build new houses on the hills…

    what do we do vanessa ??? what do we do eve ???

    just leave everything to nature and let civilisation die…???

    Next article Eve, what is your solution ? I really want to hear….I cant believe how negative the echo has become.

    The echo should be called the ech’no’.

    • Hello….
      Development that complies with the LEP and the DCP documents has no trouble being approved. The massive projects happening between Rous rd, and Invercauld road are something to see. And you may notice that the required land reinforcement ensured that the properties survived the unprecedented rain event.
      Why do so many people think that prior Councils did nothing?
      “… let civilisation die???” (3 question marks, I’m impressed.)
      Talk about catastrophising.
      What we do, is spend the money that would be wasted on mitigation, and use it to fill the ridges.

  13. Vanessa Ekins is right about this Scott, precisely because she has listened to the hydrologists and engineers. You should too

  14. It was deeply distressing to see Lismore under such a flood…again. Lismore needs to resolve this flooding issue for the wellbeing of the city and its future.
    Rivers are nature’s way of draining water to the ocean and if rivers are too shallow or silted then they obviously overflow their banks into the surrounding areas.
    So instead of thinking of levees and building them higher, Lismore should be asking ‘ what is the average depth of our rivers in Lismore as they flow to the sea’? ‘Have our rivers silted up over the decades ‘?
    As part of good river management, it’s critical to dredge rivers regularly to clear away the excess silt build up. This will allow water drain away quicker and avoid flooding over the river banks.
    Lismore should consider increasing the depth of its rivers and widening them at certain points on the way to the sea which will increase the throughput of water and avoid flooding over river banks.
    It will require to be undertaken as a project but it will be cheaper and more sustainable than building higher levees.
    If Lismore’s rivers were on average 5 meters deeper than their current depth, would the floods have occurred?

    • Of course the floods would have occurred! Lismore is only 12 meters above sea level. No amount of dredging is going to change that fact. Lismore is built on a flood plain. Flood plains flood.

  15. Not one word about trolleys in drains, not one word about past flood refuse and weeds in drains. What was flooding like when large boats were able to travel up the Wilson. What about our polluted river. Any one want to comment on this. Rubbish has been collected from this flood but has any one been watching the storm water drains to make sure they are attended to also. I am not an expert but isn’t these issues important? I have contacted the council so many times about trolleys in drains especially at the lights on Ballina Road. Talking about roads, the roads in Lismore have been falling apart for years. The flood cannot be blamed for those.

  16. No. No new levy.

    Offer to buy back the land from residents and/or provide them with a block elsewhere. It has flooded 3 time in 10 years. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

  17. It’s not rocket science that you have to move out of the flood plain! Rebuilding in the same place is a bandaid solution. Real discussion needs to start by relevant parties about how to achieve this. If you’ve had past floods in 1954 and 1974, this is not new albeit perhaps worse but people cannot be put through this soul destroying natural disaster time and time again.

  18. I am commercial property owner in south Lismore. I don’t live in Lismore . I am concerned that fixing up or rebuilding the demolished structure is expensive and if it is going to flood every 10 years or so my losses will never be recovered
    The Council needs to have bold vision. And use the modern engineering techniques but also the Federal Government needs to help relocate the entire city to higher ground

    • or… you need to cop a loss – (although a buy back is usually pretty reasonable,) and find a site up the hill…

  19. The point is – it would be cheaper for the government to spend mitigation money on buying the land on the ridges, moving people, (who are willing,) and businesses, up the hills.
    It isn’t like there is a single space that could fit the entire cbd into it, as best I know, but we really need to shift uphill. Some different areas, spread out, to spread the load is needed.
    It isn’t like the plain is going to stop flooding, and we have been witness to the most remarkable on (reliable) record. What else is possible?
    Lismore was built on the timber industry, and as I have it, “relied” on the regular floods to move timber to the downstream ports. Time to get ready for the new Lismore, one that suits the now.
    But the people will not be able to afford it on their own, they need direct help.

  20. Brian H… Congratulations Ando.. Dredging the rivers back to their original depths is the most sensible comments I have read in the whole of this article … Yes if our Hydraulic engineers set up their own scale model of the total area and carry out simulated testing showing full flowing unsilted rivers then .. then fill the beds with silt to todays level ,the simulate the volume of rain over the affected areas .. they will observe the behaviour of the flood waters and be able to comprehend the nature of the flood water movement and hopefully make sensible and positive decisions as to how to greatly reduce the levels and impact .and possible new civil works that will need to be introduced . Sure the study will cost big money but consider the costs that occur now on a regular basis .. Money well and wisely spent.. I like the reference to the days when l large shipping could move through the rivers without depth concerns .. That has to tell you something .. Jennas comments re the blocked stormwater drains has merit also… Yes Move the town to Higher ground if need be

  21. Brian H …. Further to my previous… With planning The silt from the rivers could be used as land fill to accommodate the new township in the appropriate location Expert civil engineers could develop a system of possibly utilising the same township area in stages to maintain its location…. Beyond my expertise but a thought.. call for expressions of interest ?

  22. I am going to water-proof my home with outside movable WRAPS and have my valuables in plastic boxes. When I flood I just get into my dingy and sail away and come back to live in beautiful Lismore another day! True Lismore Character I wanna be! and Bob’s yer uncle


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