Thursday, August 5

Northwest Sydney residents say increased development has made flooding worse | Floods off the east coast of Australia in 2021

“Where do you think the water is going to go? It’s not 1960 anymore. “

Shaun Boland was furious Tuesday, and it wasn’t because live power lines had prevented him from accessing his two-story home in Pitt Town Bottoms, northwest of Sydney, by boat. His home, like dozens of others nearby, drowned and merged with the Hawkesbury River.

“You can’t just have thousands of acres of grass and rezone it for thousands of houses and new roads and not expect all the rainwater to run into the river,” Boland told Guardian Australia.

After heavy rains over the weekend caused Sydney’s Warragamba Dam to overflow, rising river flows caused “waves so big you could surf.” They collided with their 120-year-old home, which was eventually submerged. Previously it had been affected by major floods in the area.

Locals ventured in private boats, canoes and jet skis on Tuesday as the State Emergency Service conducted rescues and delivered medicine to communities that had become islands. The Australian Defense Forces had also joined the disaster effort.

At Pitt Town Bottoms, Boland hoped it would be weeks before he could return home to his wife and two children. They were in the process of moving to another nearby property, so they had a place to stay, but like all residents throughout Hawkesbury, he is concerned about the increasing risk of flooding.

The plumber was instrumental in that decisions to release water from the Warragamba dam upstream do not appear to take into account increased development in the area.

“All the water goes down into the river from all the new properties around us,” Boland said. “How can they not expect the floods to be worse than before?”

Boland previously said it would be a few days before heavy rains saturated the soil and it could no longer absorb additional water. Then there would be an increase in the rivers that would flood the suburbs. But this week, he insisted, the flooding happened much faster.

Shaun Boland goes out on a friend's boat to inspect his property where he lived with his wife and two children in Pitt Town Bottoms.
Shaun Boland goes out on a friend’s boat to inspect his property in Pitt Town Bottoms. Photograph: Jessica Hromas / The Guardian

He backed the New South Wales government push to raise the height of the dam wall, but also wanted politicians to consider the impact new housing developments have on flood risk.

At the Bird In The Hand Inn in Pitt Town, displaced locals gathered for dinners they couldn’t eat at their homes. On Tuesday, they were discussing how the Bells Line of Road, which was at the center of the fires that devastated Sydney’s far west and the lower Blue Mountains in December 2019, had now been closed due to flooding.

Residents also exchanged stories of homes that had dodged previous floods but succumbed to the weekend’s rains.

“All these properties have sprung up around us, where do you think the runoff is going to go?” said the innkeeper.

The flooded construction site in the Box Hill City Center development
The flooded construction site in the Box Hill City Center development. Photograph: Jessica Hromas / The Guardian

In Box Hill, near Pitt Town, several new developments surround what will become the center of the town of Box Hill. On Tuesday, the construction site was flooded.

The scene was common in areas of western Sydney in the suburbs along the floodplain. At the entrance to Pitt Town, a sign was submerged this week announcing the final launch of new homes.

A sign announcing the final launch of new homes in Pitt Town submerged in flood waters
A sign announcing the final launch of new homes in Pitt Town submerged in flood waters. Photograph: Jessica Hromas / The Guardian

Between ducking to avoid live power lines and guiding his boat away from the red-bellied black snakes floating in the rubble, Dane Kemp pointed to the houses and the submerged horse paddocks below.

Kemp has lived in Pitt Town for most of his life, and his dry family home is less than 100 yards from the end of his street, which has been turned into a makeshift marina for residents who take out boats to supply friends. whose properties “have become an island.”

Dane Kemp pulls his gloomy through an area where the main road to Pitt Town normally runs
Dane Kemp pulls his gloomy through an area where the main road to Pitt Town normally ran. Photograph: Jessica Hromas / The Guardian

“It’s so dangerous here that I don’t like doing it,” Kemp said of the risk of taking a boat between power lines to control his neighbors’ livestock.

The 33-year-old said his family “have had a few sleepless nights” since the waters rose sharply around 2 pm Sunday. He knows that while his home narrowly escaped the flood, many others did not. “All the houses that have sunk are totally ruined,” he said.

In the boat, gazing out at the waters over the Lynwood Country Club golf course, Kemp’s head almost skims the globe of a lamppost.

The civil industry worker notes that people, including his family, had lived in the area for a long time before the recent surge in development in the Hawkesbury-Nepean floodplain. He believes that the scale and type of development are affecting the floods.

“Australia keeps growing and people have to live somewhere,” he said. “But with some of the new places here, there are more roofs, there is more pavement, and when the rain falls you have to go somewhere. Even if it’s not flooding those houses because they are built taller, it could flood somewhere else. “

He understands that it was not an easy option to simply release water from the Warragamba dam in anticipation of the rain that ultimately caused the dam to spill on Saturday afternoon.

“It’s difficult, yes, they could have released the dam, but if it hadn’t rained, everyone would have blamed them for wasting water, and this is an area that was in drought for years.”

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