• Tony Bosworth

Urban development could be making Hawkesbury flood risk much worse – WSROC President

In the wake of one of the most devastating flood events seen in our region for decades, Hawkesbury councillor, ex-Mayor, and President of the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, Barry Calvert, says the state government urgently needs to review the impact of urban development.

Cllr Calvert says there also needs to be better emergency planning and communication with residents who may need to be evacuated in a major emergency.

In the Macdonald Valley area, for example, residents affected by the floods had no help for at least three days from Hawkesbury Council or emergency services, aside from a lone police officer based at Wisemans Ferry. They were completely cut off, and even today some communities there are still isolated.

The Hawkesbury-Nepean river region has the highest flood risk in NSW, a fact most of us saw firsthand over the last two weeks as floodwaters coursed through Hawkesbury suburbs.

WSROC’s Barry Calvert, said the events meant urgent questions needed to be asked, including state government support for evacuation planning, and listening to local community concerns that the emergency was made worse due to increasing urban development.

Urban sprawl is changing flood patterns thanks to too little natural water run-off and less environmental drainage, which may be leading to worse floods

“The degree to which urban development is potentially affecting the watercourses must be investigated,” Cllr Calvert said.

“Residents north of Richmond report that water behaviour during flood events has noticeably changed in recent years and that water volume has increased.

“We are hearing that water has been coming from, broadly, Chain of Ponds area, [now a heavily built-up urban area] which previously operated as a retention point in heavy rains, staving off high volume overflow.

“Also, at South Creek and surrounds, creeks bank up during floods and water actually runs backward up the creek, and nearby areas such as Marsden Park then have nowhere to drain to.

“Taken in context with the ‘bathtub effect’ resulting from the natural landscape, whereby water cannot easily escape, locals tell us the problem is basically being pushed downstream.

“There is some concern that natural water courses in the Hawkesbury-Nepean region are being impacted by urban development, which, in extreme weather such as the downpour we saw, is potentially exacerbating disaster.

“Urban development in flood-prone areas means more hard surfaces that don’t allow water to be absorbed and roofs that guide water into man-made run-off areas that force the flow in new directions” said Clr Calvert.

WSROC President and Hawkesbury councillor, Barry Calvert

“If it is the case that urban development is impacting the natural watercourses and exacerbating risk, then there is a need for this aspect of land use planning in the floodplain to be urgently reviewed by the state government.

Cllr Calvert added, “we urgently need to resolve the current, fragmented approach to flood management. WSROC is concerned that local communities are not being heard or consulted, in the wake of this event.

“Input from local communities must inform planning so that emergency strategies and responses to future events effectively incorporate local knowledge and experience.

“Flood planning and mitigation in the Hawkesbury Nepean floodplain is a complex area; however, what is emerging in the aftermath is the need for better emergency planning and communication with residents who may need to be evacuated.

“These factors are all raised in NSW Department of Planning, Industry and the Environment proposed flood resilience frameworks - they are not new ideas.

“The flood disaster gives us a crucial opportunity to hone our approach and build community resilience, ahead of future events.

“While an emergency management strategy will help keep people safe in the event of natural disaster, there is considerably more that we can do about flood events which may be linked to man-made impact,” Cllr Calvert said.

“We need better place-based intelligence to support people living in the flood zone, including a flood warning system with clearly mapped escalating flood zones, easily identified and well-maintained evacuation routes so that people who live in flood-prone areas know where they sit in relation to the situation that is changing around them and are prepared with a clear course of action.

“WSROC is convinced that State and local governments working collaboratively can do so much more to deliver an effective flood warning and evacuation program for the Hawkesbury Nepean Valley.

“We need more leadership on this, and substantial consultation with local communities, to develop better flood risk management and community resilience,” said Cllr Calvert.

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