Did no drainage maintenance make the flood worse?

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

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

Byron Shire Council’s infrastructure director maintains that “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. To the knowledge of one elderly woman living on Ann Street, no drainage maintenance had been carried out in over 15 years.

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

He said, “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 in both 2017 and 2022, 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 sits. The drains have not been maintained or cleared by Council in the fifteen years I have lived here. The overall draining system and its route are completely inadequate for the topology and development footprint.”

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

“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.

Holloway was asked if he agreed with Mr Sturch’s claim that drainage maintenance had not been carried out in the area for many years. However, but he did not reply to that. Mr Holloway did say, |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.”

Holloway added, “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. There is no mention of specific drainage projects in Mullumbimby. 

Resident of 69 years comments on drainage maintenance

Prince Street resident, Tom Maher, has lived in the area for 69 years. The recent floods were unlike anything he’d ever seen before. “I was lucky not be flooded,” he said, “It came up just below my porch. When it floods, water can’t escape along the rail corridor. 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.”

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