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Concerns new Carnarvon flood levee benefits won't flow to all

Lucie Bell and Ebonnie Spriggs, Friday June 13, 2014 - 15:18 EST
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Following the devastating 2010-11 floods, 16km of new levees have been built. - ABC

A series of new levee banks will be officially unveiled in the Western Australian town of Carnarvon today, three and a half years after record floods devastated the community.

The 2010/11 floods caused about $90 million worth of damage to homes, businesses and crops in the Gascoyne town.

WA Regional Development Minister, Terry Redman, flew over the town in the aftermath of the disaster.

"The impact of those flood waters washing back into the river system, it just took all the top soil off the horticultural areas and had a devastating impact and that's what we want to avoid."

Minister Redman will be in Carnarvon to officially open the levees today, a project that has seen $60 million in government funds spent on the construction of 16 kilometres of new banks.

Despite this, some growers remain concerned that the levee system layout has left a gap and will not guarantee some plantations are any better off, should a similar size flood occur.

Grower Jo Bumbak says while today's opening of the levees is exciting for the town, she believes her family's place won't benefit from their construction.

The Bumbak plantation is located between South River Road and the Gascoyne River, near the beginning of Grahams Gully.

"We're very nervous because we think that more water will come down the main stream of the Gascoyne, which would mean we'll experience higher levels, as would the north side of the river.

"So it'll be very interesting when we get our next big flood to actually see what happens and how the water spreads, because water does have to go somewhere."

Mrs Bumbak says her family raised concerns about the levees' layout at the time of the project's planning.

"We were shown the modelling but we're still a little bit unsure."

Mango grower Eddie Smith is in a similar position.

While he thinks the community will benefit from the levees more broadly, he's worried his place might be worse off in a future flood following their construction.

"I think we'll see a reduction in the length of flooding, due to the Brown's Range levee which will stop the backflow off Nickol Bay, but as to the rest of it, the authorities keep saying it's a wait and see attitude.

"It doesn't leave you feeling that confident that they're 100 per cent sure of their modelling.

"With the design there's a gap between South River Road and the Boundary Road levees.

"If the river peaks at the same level [12.4m] as 2010, the impact on our property will be identical and maybe, because it's not getting out anywhere else after the Santa Rosa floodway, it may even be worse."



Minister Terry Redman acknowledges that some people have expressed concern, but says he's confident significant effort has gone into the design and structure of the banks.

"It's designed to take the heat out of the substantial flow of water, it's not designed to protect everything.

"These levee banks are substantial, in some cases they are four to five metres high.

"They're designed not to be a dam, but to deflect the water and slow it down or re-direct it in areas where it can have less impact than it would otherwise do.

"Water still floods, water still goes in and water still goes out and I think what we have done is a fantastic step towards giving protection to the horticultural areas of Carnarvon."

When asked whether he can guarantee no grower would be worse off, the Minister said that was his sincere hope.

"I would certainly like to think that no grower would be worse off.

"Obviously over time I am prepared to have a look at the success of those banks and the impact that areas might have that haven't got direct protection."

Post floods, growers manage plantations differently

At the time of the 2010/11 floods, Jo Bumbak's family had only owned their property for six months.

More than half a metre of water washed through their home and the plantation lost a significant amount of soil through erosion.

As a result, the Bumbaks have made changes to the way they run their plantation.

"We've now re-designed our property, planting mango and banana trees in the strong flowing areas, to ensure that we hold the ground together and try to slow the water down.

"Also we've planted buffalo lawn everywhere that we possibly can, to hold the soil together around the house.

"I just hope that Carnarvon people are more prepared than last time, and that those of us on the river have changed our ways a little bit.

"I hope people are prepared to not plant and turn over the soil as much and that we develop a better understanding and respect for the river."


- ABC

© ABC 2014

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WA's west coast warms up

18:24 EDT Carnarvon residents have had a scorching few days, with the mercury hitting 40 degrees for the third day in a row.

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