While flood data collection by Council is ongoing, the newly formed Floodplain Committee that advises Council met last week for a first look at what mitigation strategies are needed, and how funding was being sourced.
Committee member and councillor, Duncan Dey, who is also a hydrologist, told The Echo it was a good meeting and he was pleased with the level of knowledge of community members who live across the Shire.
‘It’s one of the most important committees on Council’, he said, adding that it comprises representatives from NSW government departments’.
‘Other committees, such as the Water and Sewer Advisory Committee, do not have state government support’.
Staff have commissioned a review
Cr Dey said that staff have already commissioned a review of the current North Byron Floodplain Risk Management Plan, which was adopted in 2020.
Such plans underpin decision making around floodplains. Earlier adopted plans for Belongil and Tallow Creeks will also be reviewed, Cr Dey said.
‘The NSW Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) staff showed the meeting graphs of significant water-level gauges for the recent floods.
‘Peak levels were at about one in a hundred-year rarity in the north of the Shire, as predicted for the 2020 Plan. I was surprised – these were not “off the Richter” floods. In Byron town, the peak level was about one in ten year.
‘Council will be asked probably in June to decide to extent of review required in each catchment.
‘While the next scheduled Floodplain Committee meeting isn’t for another three months, we were assured that if the report to Council is ready earlier, it will also be shared with the Committee’.
‘In the normal scheme of things, very little money is allocated for flood preparation’, he said.
Funding for flood mitigation
‘Byron’s share of the state’s funds for housing raising, for example, would normally help raise two houses per year. The 2020 floods highlight that the state must think again about funding for flood mitigation.
‘The state has allocated $1.08m to design flood-mitigation works for Byron Bay’s town centre. Council is topping that up to $1.3m.
‘Those designs will be based on concepts adopted by Council in about 2015, and include a large irrigation-type pump to remove stormwater from the town, which sits too low to drain by gravity.
‘Personally, I think the town centre also suffers from too much hard surface, but all that will be examined as the design progresses’.
Cr Dey says for him, focus in the north of the Shire should be on rapidly reviewing the Floodplain Plan, which would then lead to its list of actions being updated.
‘Unlike in the low-lying parts of Lismore, there is a future for low-lying homes that can be raised’, he says.
‘Buildings that can’t be raised can at least be “wet-proofed”, a process whereby electrics are raised and the building can be hosed out after a flood. According to the Floodplain Committee’s staff report, a limiting criterion for house raising is that state funding is ‘only available for properties with buildings that were approved and constructed prior to 1986’.
Cr Dey says, ‘Such limitations need to be lifted if the community is to transition out of devastating flood-damage cycles and adapt to living with flood’.
Mullum evac plan
Another important funding grant needed, says Cr Dey, is to establish a ‘decent evacuation plan for Mullum’.
‘We learnt in 2022 that the Civic Hall hub to which the town is drawn serves perfectly for disaster recovery, but not for evacuation. It is flood-prone.
‘New flood-free centres are needed and better flood warning systems.
‘Council’s application for funding for this to be investigated was knocked back prior to the flood. Council is re-applying to the state now.
‘I’d suggest two distinct approaches for flooding of the Shire’s low-lying areas.
‘Firstly, let’s not invite new housing, especially subdivisions, onto floodplains.
‘Let’s make sure new housing invests on flood-free land. The Shire has plenty of high ground, so this is not just a dream.
‘Quite separately, let’s do everything we can for those already living on floodplains. This includes house raising, wet-proofing, and buy back.
‘That’ll need a big budget.
‘If the federal government cancelled one submarine, it could all be done’, says Cr Dey.
Very little say
Meanwhile, Main Arm resident and keen Council watcher, Matthew Lambourne, has been on Council’s Floodplain Committees continuously for 24 years. He says in the previous four years, the committee had very little say on things.
Asked if he was hopeful of it improving, he replied, ‘I would like an extraordinary meeting called if there is a review of the committee needed. There were examples in the past where we found incorrect rainfall data, and we were able to correct it.
‘More meetings would be helpful so we can have input into the proceedings, rather than commenting after it’s been done’.
Mr Lambourne suggested looking at a levee bank in Billinudgel, which was previously considered by staff.
‘We were told it wouldn’t work, yet we never got to look at the modelling closely’.