THERE has been severe flooding along parts of the east coast of Australia with the towns of Grafton and Lismore evacuated over the weekend. Grafton is towards the bottom of the mighty Clarence River which is completely unregulated. I can’t find a reliable estimate for the amount of water discharged on average or during flood events. It drains an area of 23-thousand square kilometres.
It doesn’t matter what time of year you drive through this region, known as the Northern Rivers District, it is always green and the wide Clarence is always brimming with water.
In Australia we repeat the mantra that this is the driest inhabited continent on earth but, according to the World Resource Institute, we have 51,000 litres of available water per capita per day, this is one of the highest in the world, and well ahead of countries such as the United Kingdom with only 3,000 litres per capita per day.
We have chosen not to dam most of our big rivers, only developing significant infrastructure in the far south – in the dry Murray Darling Basin.
There are those who, in the past, have wanted rivers like the Clarence dammed and turned inwards to supplement irrigation in the interior – in the Murray Darling Basin.
While it has been claimed damming the river would destroy its environment, such claims are based on little more than value-laden opinion. There would be environmental benefits from damming in particular from a flood mitigation perspective. Indeed the regular flooding of urban and industrial centres can’t be good for downstream water quality.
I’m neither for or against the damming of the Clarence, but I wish politicians and the media would at least acknowledge that the recent flooding is an inevitable consequence of development on a flood plain along a mighty river that the locals do not want tamed.
While there has been flooding in parts of eastern Austraslia, much of inland south eastern Australia is still in drought. The lower reaches of the Murray River are still drying up and a new group was formed recently to lobby for the barrages, built to keep the lower reaches of this river fresh, to be opened to let the Southern Ocean back in to inundate the area.
It seems that here in Australia we are very much supportive of the status quo. If a structure has been in place for a long time, for example the barrages at the bottom of the Murray River, we are loathed to dismantle them. If a structure has never been built, for example flood mitigation for the Clarence River we are loathed to consider it. I am not sure we were always such a timid, recalcitrant and unwilling lot.
Notes and Links
Recent rainfall not so rare
By ABC weather expert Graham Creed
Clarence River Stories
Lower Lakes Crisis
Saving the Coorong by restoring its native state
The photograph of the dairy cow in the paddock was taken west of Bellinger in the Clarence or Bellinger catchment of the Northern Rivers District in January 2007 by Jennifer Marohasy.