Receding flood waters have revealed a picture of utter devastation along the Hawkesbury River as the true force of the flood becomes apparent.
At least one house, and several cabins have collapsed into the river, acres of riverbank land have been swept away and millions of tonnes of sand have covered houses and rendered farmland useless.
“Land was collapsing into the river underneath my feet as we inspected properties in one area.” an SES worker told HM. Another local said his neighbour watched as an acre of his riverfront farmland just washed away after flood waters had receded.
The damage to Cornwallis and Richmond Lowlands is nothing short of a catastrophe. A house owned by the estate of former INXS manager, Chris Murphy was today swallowed by the river while riverland damaged in previous floods no longer exists.
Lowland locals had pleaded for years for the council and state government to fix Cornwallis Road and the levy bank that collapsed in 2021, warning the devastating impact subsequent floods would have on the land.
As recently as May this year, locals told the government, Hawkesbury council, Resilience NSW and the Department of Planning, at a community meeting, that emergency work was needed immediately on the damaged levy bank and road otherwise the area would be wiped out by the next, imminent flood.
The council and government failed to fix the problem.
Today, Cornwallis and Richmond Lowlands resembles a moonscape. The former farmland devastated by the man-made flood, the force of which locals say they have never witnessed before.
The temporary fix to the road and land proposed by council in June is no longer an option. The land is now beyond repair with the landscape permanently altered at a cost of tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions to local farmers, landowners and the local economy.
Locals, who HM has chosen not to name, have called for the Mayor, Patrick Connolly, the Hawkesbury Council General Manager, Elizabeth Richardson and state member for the Hawkesbury, Robyn Preston to stand down over the disaster.
They said they were either unwilling or unable to advocate on the communities behalf and have the problem fixed after the floods in 2021 and March 2022. “They either weren’t interested or didn’t bother to understand how serious the problem was.”
In May, farmers pleaded with the council to be able to fix their own farmland damaged in recent floods.
Hawkesbury Mayor, Patrick Connolly told them they would still be required to apply for a Development Application. The NSW Government who ultimately took responsibility for the repairs failed to protect the land.
Some of those farmers/landowners no longer have land to fix. One farmer who took action to protect his own land without going through councils long and expensive DA process was able to save his riverbank land this time.
The ferocity and speed of the flood was caused when WaterNSW released a daily volume of water greater than Sydney Harbour into a flooding river system. The water was moving so fast that it resembled white water rapids.
Locals have become exhausted by the total lack of accountability for the disaster and refusal by the NSW Liberal Government to change the law to allow Warragamba Dam to be used as a mitigation dam.
If it was to be used as a mitigation dam water would be released well ahead of a major rain event and the desalination plant used as a back-up water supply.
It would have helped to avoid the catastrophic riverbank damage that is a result of WaterNSW and the NSW State Government’s operation of Warragamba Dam. The NSW Government wants to raise the Warragamba Dam wall to facilitate development of the floodplain.
The Environmental Impact Statement into the dam wall project acknowledged that it would result in increased riverbank erosion and habitat degradation downstream of the dam. This would be caused during the emptying process which would see an increase in the duration of sustained bank-full velocities.
“…there are likely to be unavoidable geomorphological impact with regard to the risk of bank erosion in the system.”