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Byron Shire
July 7, 2022

What’s happening with Lake Ainsworth?

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Lake Ainsworth flooding road below caravan park, 5 May 2022. Photo David Lowe.

Residents of Lennox Head and visitors have been commenting on social media and in person about the ongoing flooding of Lake Ainsworth since torrential rain hit the Northern Rivers in March.

The road below the caravan park (heading to Camp Drewe) has been closed and underwater for weeks, which has impeded access for 4WDs and horses to Seven Mile Beach. The footpath between the lake and the beach has also been submerged.

BBQ underwater at Lake Ainsworth. Photo David Lowe.

While council facilities including BBQs and benches have been impacted, the local wildlife seems to have been enjoying the extra water.

People have been advised not to swim in the flood-affected water.

Some people have been calling for the lake to be pumped out, while others have said that this would be a waste of time, as the lake level reflects the surrounding water table.

Those with long memories say the lake was once able to drain naturally to the sea when it flooded, but human intervention and dune movements have now made this impossible.

Lake Ainsworth flooding across path between lake and beach. Photo David Lowe.

The only thing everyone seems to agree on is no one can remember the lake being this high in the past. It’s going down now, but how long will it take to return to normal?

Q&A

The Echo sought comment from Ballina Council staff about the situation.

A spokesperson confirmed the height this time (4.14 metres) is a metre higher than the previous high mark (at least since records have been kept).

Are there any health issues with the water in the lake at the moment? ‘Some water monitoring results within the lake are showing elevated bacterial levels associated with the heavy rainfall experienced and limited flushing at the lake,’ said the council spokesperson.

No swimming warning and flooded seats at Lake Ainsworth, 5 May 2022. Photo David Lowe.

‘We are also concerned about submerged structures within the lake (BBQs, tables chairs, tree roots) that may present trip and fall hazards.’

Is it true that the lake was once connected to the sea and was able to drain naturally? ‘Early plans, maps and aerial photography seem to show that the lake was open to the ocean and this seems to be supported by some previous studies looking at what organisms lived in the lake over time,’ said the spokesperson.

Flooded Lake Ainsworth and Lennox Head. Photo David Lowe.

‘It appears that over time the lake closed to the ocean due to the development of the sand dunes in this locality.’

Is it true that the lake height is the same as the water table? ‘Yes, the level of the lake represents the level of the groundwater in the locality. Therefore the level of the lake rises and falls with the groundwater level.’

If the process is left to sort itself out naturally, when do you anticipate the lake might return to its usual level? ‘The lake level has already fallen about 35 cm since its peak and it is expected to continue to fall by approximately 1 cm a day,’ said the council spokesperson.

Lake Ainsworth flooding. Photo Jeff Johnson.

‘This means it could take several months to fall to a more normal level. This process will be slowed by further rainfall.’

With more rain on the way, the lake may not have finished flooding yet. Until then, locals and visitors might have to adjust to nature’s schedule, and enjoy Lake Ainsworth as it is now.

Jeff Johnson’s view

Ballina Shire Councillor Jeff Johnson told The Echo that his conversations with senior staff at Ballina Council have led him to believe that unless the excess water is pumped out of the lake then it’s likely to be flooded for the next six months or more.

Lake Ainsworth flooding across path between lake and beach. Photo David Lowe.

‘The water doesn’t drain through the sand dune like it once did,’ said Cr Johnson. ‘I’d like to see the excess water pumped out and released into the ocean.

‘Council’s environmental officer confirmed that the prolonged flooding has the potential to kill off the surrounding vegetation, including some old culturally significant “singing trees” in the area.

‘At the moment, we have electric BBQ’s under water and access to the Sport and Rec is blocked off. This centre could play a role in providing temporary housing for some of the many displaced people.

Lake Ainsworth flooding across access road below caravan park. 5 May 2022. Photo David Lowe.

‘Getting the water level of the lake down should be considered a priority for a number of reasons and council needs to do more to address this issue,’ said Cr Johnson.

‘Simply waiting for the water to go down will have serious impacts on the surrounding area.’

Cr Johnson said Lennox Residents Association representative Malcolm Milner was also at the meeting and agreed something needed to be done as a matter of urgency.

Mr Milner is in favour of investigating the installation of a an overflow pipe that prevents future flooding. This option, along with pumping out the water will be considered as part of the new Coastal Zone Management Plan that is currently under review.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. The water from all the housing development and subdivisions are funneling storm water into catchments where it would not normally have gone
    Byron bay was storm water flood rain water from your new housing developments directed into the wrong catchments
    Maybe a little food for thought

  2. When I was a child (in the 60s & 70s)I remember the lake often spilling across the road after we’d had a lot of rain and yes it did drain out toward the northern end of the lake.

  3. This trapped Lake needs a proper clean-out of all the ti-tree sludge and faecal-loads.
    Why would anyone actually risk it and dare to swim in it at any time ?

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