Flood lessons being ‘ignored’

Lives and property are being put at risk because governments are ignoring the lessons of the past, a floodplain management professional has claimed.

It is 58 years since the 1955 flood that devastated Maitland, claiming 14 lives, inundating 5200 homes and causing damage worth more than $2 billion in today’s terms.

Floodplain Management Association chairman Ian Dinham said the government of the day was “very proactive” in constructing the Lower Hunter Flood Mitigation Scheme in the wake of that disaster.

But he believed today’s politicians had dropped the ball on preventative measures elsewhere in Australia, providing “alarmingly insufficient” funding levels for flood mitigation measures, while spending on average more than $400 million nationally each year repairing flood damage.

“Maitland has an excellent diversion scheme there, in June 2007 it was saved by its flood levee, but too many towns and cities across Australia do not have this protection,” Mr Dinham said.

“It makes no sense to keep spending money over and again putting things back that will only be washed away again. Some of that money would be better spent on preventative measures.”

Mr Dinham said the state government in particular was falling behind on mitigation measures, saying its funding levels had dropped by almost half to its current level, which he claimed was $8.6 million annually.

“We have been offering advice to NSW government ministers since the last election and have met with a brick wall of total disinterest,” Mr Dinham said. “Yet, every flood is met with a helicopter visit by the Premier [Barry O’Farrell] and sometimes the Minister for the Environment [Robyn Parker].

“We are calling on Ms Parker to give us a chance to share the 60 years of expertise we have to help the government make better decisions and show them how the system can work more efficiently with the funding we have.”

But the Maitland MP said the state government provided $9.2 million to the NSW Floodplain Management Program from the local government grants allocation administered by the Office of the Environment and Heritage.

This was in addition to joint funding with the federal government to the tune of $16 million combined for projects in 100 local government areas in NSW.

“Floodplain management is a local council responsibility and the NSW government provides financial and technical assistance through the Floodplain Management Program,” Ms Parker said. “OEH assists councils to prepare floodplain risk management studies and plans and implement mitigation measures.”

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