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Byron Shire
October 4, 2022

Blocked drains – did they  exacerbate the flood?

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Residents who experienced the worst flooding in living memory earlier this year are claiming that a lack of drainage maintenance over the last 15 years contributed to the eastern part of Mullum being flooded. 

Yet Council’s infrastructure director maintains ‘nothing could have fully prevented the 2022 Brunswick River creek and riverine flood event’.

Drainage was raised at the Flood Inquiry meeting in Mullumbimby on June 6, where one elderly woman, living on Ann Street, told the panel that no drainage maintenance had been carried out, to her knowledge, in over 15 years.

Resident, James Sturch, agrees. He lives on King Street, which is off Argyle Street, coming into town. 

He told The Echo, ‘This area of town (Ann Street, New City Road, Queen Street, King Street and all the lanes in between) was the first area to flood in both the 2017 event and this year. The water depths here were the greatest’. 

After carefully observing flooding for both 2017 and 2022, Mr Sturch believes it was a result of a combination of factors.

‘The area is filled when Saltwater Creek flows backwards (well before the Brunswick River bursts its banks). There is no continuous stormwater drainage from this region of town to Kings Creek, so the flood water just sits. The drains have not been maintained or cleared by Council in any of the fifteen years that I have lived here. The overall draining system and its route is completely inadequate for the topology and development footprint’.

Mr Sturch said, ‘I fully explained all of the above issues to Council after the 2017 flood, and submitted a huge amount of evidence, as well as drone footage. No actions were taken then, and the flood this year was over 1m deeper. 

‘Although I appreciate that nothing could have fully prevented the floods this year, if the uncomplicated, basic, straightforward works that I had recommended had been carried out, the residents within this region would have had more time to act and save their belongings. The water depth would also have been greatly reduced’.

Director replies

Phil Holloway, Director Infrastructure Services, was provided with Mr Sturch’s statement.

The Echo asked Mr Holloway ‘if he agreed with Mr Sturch’s claim that drainage maintenance had not been carried out in the area for many years’, but he did not reply to that. Mr Holloway did tell The Echo, however, ‘Council agrees that this natural disaster flood event has impacted areas to depths never recorded in the past, and that nothing could have fully prevented the 2022 Brunswick River creek and riverine flood event’.

‘This event exceeded all local drainage systems’ capacities as it did across all Northern Rivers council areas. Flood flows would have been experienced flowing upstream (reverse flow to normal when river water levels are low) into Council’s drainage network as Brunswick River levels rose and no amount of drainage maintenance would have prevented this happening’.

Mr Holloway continued, ‘From a review of Council’s budgets over the past five years, Council has expended its annual budget allocations on stormwater maintenance across the Shire’. 

‘The nature and size of this natural disaster flood event makes it difficult to understand what, if any, impacts on floodwater levels would have been influenced by maintenance works, which are generally undertaken to manage low flow events and provided drainage relief for minor storm events.

‘Our open drainage network is simply not designed, nor does it have the capacity, to carry flood flows as experienced. Council is awaiting the outcome of post flood investigations and reports and has already applied for a grant to undertake a Shire-wide analysis of existing drainage overland flow paths to inform future drainage maintenance programs and stormwater systems upgrades’.

Of the stormwater management services and projects in recent Council budgets, many relate to SGB or Byron Bay, while there is no mention of specific drainage projects in Mullumbimby. The Echo asked if this was correct, yet by deadline there was no reply from Mr Holloway.

Resident of 69 years

Prince Street resident, Tom Maher, told The Echo he has lived in the area for 69 years, and the recent floods were unlike anything he’d ever seen before. ‘I was lucky not be flooded’, he said, adding it came up just below his porch. ‘When it floods, water can’t escape along the rail corridor’, he said. ‘It’s probably because of the Woolies building’. 

‘Mullum has been built up too much’, he said. ‘There’s just no thought that goes into [town] planning.’

As for Council’s drainage maintenance program, he said he hasn’t seen any done for many years. 

‘Mullum was better off before being amalgamated with Byron’, he said. ‘Everyone is contracted [externally] now for such jobs, whereas before, locals looked after the town’.

Drainage maintenance liability

Is Council liable if it ignores requests from residents to maintain drainage and infrastructure?

It appears not – The Echo asked the Office of Local Government (OLG): ‘What consequence is there for a council when it ignores residents’ requests around maintenance requests and it leads to property damage?’; and, ‘Is there a legal requirement for councils to maintain adequate drainage for ratepayers?’.

A spokesperson for the OLG replied, ‘Councils are in the best position to determine how their resources should be allocated to address operational matters, and best meet the needs of everyone in their local communities’.

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  1. What makes you think they are not liable? They dodged the question. They continuously dodge the questions and the global climate warming change disaster crisis eco-nuts are their best friends. Act of God, act of God. Nothing could have FULLY prevented at least a puddle forming. They have been well briefed by their legal team and are very careful about the exact wording they use.

    The more stuff built in flood areas, and the less drainage there is, the more flooding and greater flooding will occur, cause physics.

  2. My experience with Qld local governments is that water and sewerage rates fund maintenance on water mains and sewers – at least in theory. However there are no rates paid for stormwater drains – so this infrastructure is usually the last in line for funding in council budgets. There is never enough money for all the works needed in a community – from roads, waste management, water and sewer works etc. So stormwater drains often lose out unless a community actively campaigns after a disaster. This happened in Brisbane after the 2011 floods. So get organised. Join with other areas and fight for action


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