Two years ago when Ballina hosted the NSW Coastal Conference there was a king tide flooding streets, washing salt water up through drains and adding further erosion to the beach. Delegates saw for themselves the severe challenges this coastal town in northern NSW facesfrom the realities of sea level rise.
King tides regularly inundate local streets in Ballina and it’s becoming more and more of a challenge for the local council as they assess the impact of the damage to local infrastructure as well as private property.
Ballina is situated on a low lying island inside the mouth of the Richmond River. Heavy rain events as well as king tides have always made this large catchment area susceptible to flooding yet despite this, the NSW State Government is currently pushing for Ballina Council to turn more low lying areas into new housing and industrial estates, and approved turning the existing urban footprint from low density to medium density.
Ballina Council recently rezoned old cane farming land – the lowest lying land in the Shire - to support a new industrial and residential zone.
Green’s Councillor Jeff Johnson is concerned that council is still approving new nursing homes and high care facilities in areas that are already susceptible to flooding.
“Recently a draft evacuation planshowed just a five hour window to evacuate the townduring a major flood,” he says “There are councillors reluctant to accept the realities of sea level rise and abandon plans that have been in the pipeline for a decade or more. But this is putting lives at risk,” he says.
“The state of denial is overwhelming when the evidence is in front of our eyes,” he says. “Already during king tide events, there’s more than one foot of salt water coming up through the pipes into the main street and the whole system is rusting away. Cars drive through the flood water thinking its fresh water. There are issues with sewage when the low lying land floods. Add an extra 50cm and it’s a disaster waiting to happen. Look what happened in Brisbane, new building was allowed in areas impacted by the 1974 flood.
The Ballina Shire has one of the fastest growing populations in the state with predictions of 20,000 more people over the next 20 years. But how will the population manage the sustained damage to stormwater pipes and other infrastructure from salt water inundation? We simply don’t have the money to put floodgates on all the outlets.
Jeff Johnson says he wonders how long before people say enough is enough. “How many days of flooding per year is acceptable? What’s the cost of raising the roads or cleaning up after more and more flood events? The inconvenience is going to grow and when sewage and infrastructure actually pack it in the situation will be critical.”
“We have to plan now to minimise the cost and social upheaval that’s inevitably going to happen. People have their life savings invested in their homes. Already we are seeing insurance companies refusing to insure against flooding, and this will only increase. For others, premiums have gone through the roof,” says Mr Johnson.
Mr Johnson says the State Government needs to show leadership and put more stringent controls on new development in areas susceptible to flooding. Current NSW Planning Guidelines only need to be ‘considered’, which in reality is allowing local Council’s to approve new nursing homes and other high risk community facilities on the flood plain. “We’ve got to take responsibility now for future generations,” he said.
Jeff Johnson was elected to Ballina Council in 2008 and will be standing for re-election at the forth coming election in September.