The Grantham disaster shows we should change the way floods are predicted, Professor Ed Blakely says.
The Grantham disaster shows we should change the way floods are predicted, Professor Ed Blakely says. Bev Lacey

Qld warned of flood plain risk

QUEENSLAND has been warned not to allow arrogance to blind it to the realities of living on flood plains.

With the interim flood inquiry report into January’s disasters across the state to be released today, Professor Ed Blakely said the philosophy that engineering solutions could address every issue was wrong.

Dr Blakely, who advised on the reconstruction of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, said the decision to build higher levees there simply meant that future risk would be greater.

Speaking at the fourth annual Healthy Cities conference at Noosa last week, Dr Blakely said there was very little justification in putting more people into areas of risk.

He challenged the notion of natural disasters, saying disasters were invariably the man-made consequence of developing in the wrong places.

Dr Blakely advocates a shift inland over time, away from vulnerable coastal areas, and the use of developer entitlement transfer and the provision of key infrastructure to those areas as a way to encourage it.

“We need to learn to live with water, to co-exist,” he said. “It is not about trying to alter its force.”

His comments came after the release of the document, Understanding Floods: Questions and Answers, by the Queensland Floods Science, Engineering and Technical Panel, which has advised the flood inquiry.

It calls for a new test of what constitutes appropriate development.

Central to that is the need to move away from the probability of a flood occurring in a given year, such as a one-in-a-100-year event, as the sole measure.

The report says flood risk planning should consider “a combination of the chance of a flood occurring and the consequences of the flood for people, property and infrastructure”.

It raises serious questions about the location of the proposed Sunshine Coast University Hospital with its recommendation that “critical facilities, such as emergency hospitals, should ideally be located in areas where they will not flood and can operate during a flood event”.

Access is critical.

It is estimated flooding this year did $2 billion damage to local government infrastructure in Queensland, with total damage to public infrastructure likely to reach $6 billion.

Damage to the Australian economy from flooding here, in NSW and Victoria will top $30 billion. There were 37 deaths, 35 in this state.

Dr Blakely said he agreed with the Understanding Floods report’s call for consequence to play a bigger role in determining the merits of any development in vulnerable areas.

“The notion of 100-year flood events is bogus,” he said.

The Science, Engineering and Technical Panel was chaired by one of Queensland’s chief scientists, Dr Geoff Garrett. It found that the term one-in-100-year flood, which refers to a 1% probability of a flood of given size or larger occurring in any one year, is often misunderstood to mean that it will occur only once every 100 years.

There were historic examples of extremely large flood events occurring in consecutive years and even in the same season. In some locations the levels reached by rarer floods were much higher and likely to cause significant devastation.

It found that flooding of some locations may have significant economic and social consequences for a much wider region.

The measure of those consequences should be location-specific.


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