Counting cost

Flood dam­age es­ti­mated at more than $100 mil­lion

Southern Riverina news - - FRONT PAGE - By So­phie Burge

The flood peak may have passed through the South­ern Rive­rina, but its ef­fects will still be felt for sev­eral weeks.

The flood­wa­ters in­un­dated busi­nesses and farms as they swept through the Mur­ray River and its trib­u­taries with such force that levee banks broke in sev­eral ar­eas.

Pad­docks, crops and homes were flooded, and Tocumwal pro­duc­ers Rob Locke and Genevieve Scott said the cost is enor­mous.

They es­ti­mate the dam­age on their Lower River Rd prop­er­ties — ‘Yan­tara’ and nearby ‘Moroco’ — at about $600,000, and said the cost in the Mur­ray Val­ley ir­ri­ga­tion re­gion would be ‘‘up­wards of $100 mil­lion’’.

Mr Locke es­ti­mates at least 85 per cent of the 7000 acres of win­ter crop has been dec­i­mated.

He said the crops were in fantastic con­di­tion and likely to yield high, adding the emo­tional and fi­nan­cial stress has been ‘‘de­bil­i­tat­ing’’.

Pas­tures are also all un­der wa­ter, cre­at­ing ad­di­tional stress about how their cat­tle will be fed.

Like many other pro­duc­ers in the re­gion, Mr Locke and Ms Scott said while the flood­wa­ters were ex­pected ‘‘noth­ing could have pre­pared us for this’’.

‘‘We knew we would get cut off from town (due to flooded roads) but I was not pre­pared to be in­un­dated by wa­ter and for the wa­ter to cause so much dev­as­ta­tion to us and our neigh­bours,’’ Ms Scott said.

‘‘It is heart breaking and very emo­tion­ally tax­ing.

‘‘I’m at home with three chil­dren sur­rounded by wa­ter, wor­ry­ing about my hus­band who is up to his waist in flood­wa­ter try­ing to move stock to higher ground.

‘‘I know the wa­ter will go down, I know we will all be fine, but I hate wak­ing up every morn­ing feel­ing sick in the stom­ach won­der­ing what the day will bring.’’

Mr Locke said his $600,000 dam­age es­ti­mate could eas­ily be higher as he is not yet able to as­sess the real dam­age caused by the floods.

With the help of Damian Sex­ton last week, Mr Locke and worker Rod­ney Arnold got a glimpse of the dev­as­ta­tion by air in Mr Sex­ton’s he­li­copter.

‘‘I was pleased to go up but what I saw was a kick in the stom­ach,’’ Rob said.

‘‘For me it was just dev­as­tat­ing. When we got up in the he­li­copter and flew along one levee bank, I could see 10 breaks in the bank be­fore I de­cided to stop counting. It’s too heart­break­ing.

‘‘Our pas­ture’s potential is de­stroyed by flood — ev­ery­thing is.

‘‘If you think of eco­nom­ics, not only do we not have an in­come from the crops, we have to put in the hours (of work) clear­ing tress which have dropped like flies in the mud onto fences and fix them too, as well as foot the bill.

‘‘We’ll po­ten­tially have to stop our con­trac­tor com­ing, so he’s af­fected as is our bloke who carts grain, as he won’t be us­ing us.

‘‘We can’t cut hay be­cause we can’t ac­cess those pad­docks and given not much has been cut, it will be too ex­pen­sive to buy.

‘‘Our low level cross­ings are dam­aged and will need to be fixed. It’s all the time and clean­ing up we’ve got to con­sider too.’’

Flood­ing at Mr Locke’s prop­er­ties has come from the Na­tive Dog and Bul­latale Creek sys­tems.

The other end of the prop­erty was im­pacted by the Mur­ray River and he said its flood­wa­ters moved in mys­te­ri­ous ways.

‘‘Even on the Mur­ray River side of our prop­er­ties lev­ees have blown, but they’ve ac­tu­ally blown back into the Mur­ray.

‘‘This is prob­a­bly be­cause as prop­er­ties to the east of us had banks blow it’s filled up other pad­docks and pushed the wa­ter back out.

‘‘The Na­tive Dog Creek has been the most prob­lem­atic for us though, and I can’t un­der­stand it.’’

With the flood­wa­ters com­ing up quicker than ex­pected early last week, Mr Locke said herds of his cat­tle were stranded.

He was forced to wade into the flood­wa­ters to as­sist them to higher ground.

Mr Locke and Ms Scott say while they have been over­whelmed with sad­ness at the dev­as­ta­tion, the com­mu­nity’s will­ing­ness to help has lifted their spir­its.

‘‘Damian’s been ab­so­lutely fantastic flying us and lots of peo­ple about and drop­ping off sup­plies, we re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate it,’’ Mr Locke said.

‘‘Thanks to Ann Lo­gie too and peo­ple like the Mur­ray Lo­cal Lands Ser­vices, ev­ery­one’s been great,’’ he con­tin­ued.

‘‘It is al­ways amaz­ing how kind and gen­er­ous peo­ple are when things like this hap­pen, it re­in­states your faith in hu­man na­ture,’’ Ms Scott added.

Mr Locke said this re­cent flood event has shown wa­ter man­age­ment in the Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin is not as ef­fec­tive as it could be.

He be­lieves the Mur­ray Dar­ling Basin Au­thor­ity has the abil­ity to mit­i­gate flood risks through proper man­age­ment of the Hume Dam, but failed to do so.

He said de­spite the area re­ceiv­ing record rain­fall, the Hume was kept at 97 per cent ca­pac­ity, which he said ex­ac­er­bated the flood­ing situation.

‘‘Com­mon sense would have said we need to keep some level of air space in the dam,’’ he said.

‘‘In­stead re­duced flows of 25,000 me­gal­itres a day were let out of the Hume Dam, and it in­creased to 80,000 megs in a short space.

‘‘When I was fill­ing sand­bags try­ing to save lev­ees on the Na­tive Dog Creek I felt this wall of wa­ter.

‘‘Un­til then, we thought we were pre­pared but af­ter that we knew our battle was over.’’

Mil­lie, Lizzie and Char­lie Locke at their fam­ily’s flooded prop­erty.

An aerial shot of Rob Locke and Genevieve Scott’s flooded crops.

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