Maribyrnong flood forecasting and early warnings must be improved, report finds10/06/2023
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Melbourne Water must improve its flood forecasting and early warning systems for residents living alongside the Maribyrnong River, a report into last October’s deluge has found.
The water authority will also immediately ask Planning Minister Sonya Kilkenny to designate parts of the city’s west hit by flooding last year as subject to inundation.
Last October’s Maribyrnong River flood.Credit: Luis Ascui
The report, released on Friday, found it was unclear whether the flood wall built around Flemington racecourse had exacerbated flooding for residents upstream.
“The degree to which the flood wall contributed to the duration and extent of the flood event cannot be assessed directly, as there is no modelling of the event that includes the flood wall,” said the report, by former federal and Victorian Supreme Court judge Tony Pagone.
But it did find the Rivervue retirement village in Avondale Heights, where 47 properties were inundated, “is at risk of flooding” and that this risk could worsen “as a result of climate change and with further development upstream”.
Pagone was appointed to the role after the first chair of the inquiry, Nick Wimbush, quit after The Age in February revealed a perceived conflict of interest he had around Rivervue retirement village.
When former Premier Daniel Andrews ordered Melbourne Water to conduct the review, critics questioned whether it was right for the authority to effectively review its own performance.
Last October’s flood hit more than 600 homes and businesses across Maribyrnong, Avondale Heights, Kensington and Ascot Vale.
It caused tens of millions of dollars in damage, leaving large parts of the community in the suburbs surrounding the Maribyrnong River traumatised.
It was the third-worst flood on record for the Maribyrnong River – with only floods in 1974 and 1906 hitting the area harder.
Melbourne Water’s highly touted flood alert system failed to deliver promised warnings during last October’s disaster – leaving residents to flee as water rushed into their properties. The first time many residents in Maribyrnong learnt they should evacuate was via text messages sent by the State Emergency Service between 4am and 6am.
The river ultimately peaked at 4.2 metres – 1.8 metres higher than Melbourne Water predicted the night before.
The report also recommended that Melbourne Water undertake more regular reviews of flood models, considering the best estimates of climate change.
And it said longer-term options should be considered to stop flooding along the Maribyrnong River.
The Flemington racecourse flood wall.Credit: Darrian Traynor
Melbourne Water general manager Nerina Di Lorenzo said the water authority would work to implement all the recommendations.
She said it would take a year to model the impact of the Flemington racecourse flood wall on the wider deluge because it was such a complex task.
Di Lorenzo said long-term flood mitigation measures could “mean a number of things”, including planning controls, rather than building a new dam upstream on the river or levees along the banks.
“We can’t discount physical infrastructure, but we have also got to know that they have to be very carefully assessed before you can go down that path,” she said.
Di Lorenzo said that, since last October’s flood, Melbourne Water had begun providing new flood modelling for every river catchment in Melbourne by the end of 2026. “That includes climate change impacts projected to the year 2100.”
She said there were outstanding issues to resolve at Rivervue, and this work remained a priority for Melbourne Water, including a flood management plan for the village now under way.
Maribyrnong resident Lee Lanzafame, whose house was inundated in last year’s floods, said the report failed to convey the extent of flood damage to homes and businesses.
Lee and Selin Lanzafame holding up two images of their flooded home, taken 48 years apart.Credit: Jason South
He said residents had expected the reviewers to conduct a door-knocking survey to determine the damage they suffered.
Lanzafame said there had been no discernible improvements to warning systems and residents grew anxious when their phones pinged with general flood warnings even if they did not apply to the Maribyrnong River.
“Nothing has changed in 12 months to improve this,” he said. “Emotionally, we’re not great.”
He is living on the second floor of his Maribyrnong home while he tries to decide whether it is worth repairing the ground level that has a lounge room, study and bathroom.
Lanzafame said he was waiting for the conclusion of a parliamentary inquiry into the floods to see whether it recommended greater protection for residents.
“If mitigation is one of the recommendations, we’ll stay,” he said. “If not, we’ll leave.”
Opposition water spokesman Tim McCurdy said Melbourne Water had shown “its complete disregard” for residents along the Maribyrnong River. “It refuses to accept any responsibility,” McCurdy said, while the state government “continues the ‘nothing to see here approach’ while Maribyrnong residents seek genuine answers”.
McCurdy said the government “wants to sweep these floods away as soon as possible. Time and time again Victorians are left to clean up the mess while Melbourne Water moves on to its next self-created mess”.
The Age approached Water Minister Harriet Shing’s office for comment, but is yet to receive a response.
Questioned on the report on Friday morning, Emergency Services Minister Jaclyn Symes said she had not yet read it, but was open to changes being made. “Happy to consider everything that comes out of that report,” she said.
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