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Wrong flood predictions tell a bigger story

If authorities cannot predict river flows several days out, how can we possibly have accurate predictions from over a decade ago?

That is the pertinent question being asked by Deniliquin business operators, following the miscalculation of Edward River flood flows.

The Tasker family has operated in Deniliquin since the 1930s, and has specialised in agricultural machinery for more than half a century. This month, along with other residents and businesses in Davidson St, Deniliquin, they had the expensive and painstaking task of evacuation and sandbagging their building after flood level predictions of 9.6 metres.

But a day before the evacuation was to be completed, they were told the peak had been reviewed and would be less than 9.2 metres.

While this was a great relief for business owners Jamie and Meredith Tasker, as well as other businesses and residents along Davidson St, it has also raised some important questions.

“If authorities cannot provide an accurate prediction just a few days out from the expected peak, how can they predict computer-modelled river flows and flow impacts that are a decade old?” Jamie asked.

“That is what they have done with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. They made flow predictions and modelled their impact when the plan was being prepared over 10 years ago. It has been obvious to those living along the river system that a lot of their modelling is inaccurate, yet we have not seen anyone prepared to acknowledge this and make the necessary changes.

“Surely our experience in Deniliquin is further proof that river flow modelling is a long way from being an exact science, and therefore needs to be regularly updated.”

The Taskers have seen the impacts of the Basin Plan on rural communities across the Southern Riverina, and believe much of the economic and mental pain has not been necessary.

“We’ve seen farmers walk off the land because they are unable to make ends meet with reduced water availability. In many of the smaller communities there have been significant job losses, and with that comes fewer children at schools, then fewer teachers … it’s a real snowball effect,” Meredith said.

Throughout the Basin Plan implementation process, communities have questioned the accuracy of modelling, including the ability to deliver massive flows from recovered water to the end of the system.

Many people wonder if the volumes being recovered are necessary, and ask why updated studies have not been undertaken to determine what environmental flows are needed to achieve identified results.

The Taskers represent many people who would like to know how the authorities are going to get water through the Murray River system without causing further flood damage to public and private land.

“All the evidence tells us that the volumes, as per the modelling, cannot be physically delivered to South Australia due to river constraints, yet no-one seems prepared to seriously address this issue.

“Surely the current flood event has taught us that our authorities cannot accurately predict flow volumes and their impacts. So why are we recovering more water and causing more pain for farmers and rural communities? Why are we ignoring the impact this will have on cost of living with increased food prices? If we grow less food with less water, it stands to reason that prices will increase. The frustration for our communities is that it is all so unnecessary,” Meredith said.

The Taskers, like so many others who live and breathe their community and watch it being impacted by the Basin Plan, simply want water policy based on common-sense and best practice. That is not what they have seen over the past decade.

“Even the current obsession with timeframes makes no sense,” Jamie said.

“Politicians and the MDBA are obsessed with the 2024 timeline. Wouldn’t it be better to get the plan right for future generations, instead of rushing it through because of a timeline developed more than 12 years ago?

“It doesn’t matter what we build or implement in any government policy area, the priority should always be ‘getting it right’. Yet for some unknown reason, with the Basin Plan it’s about ‘in full and on time’, even if we get it wrong. That does not make sense,” he added.

The Taskers understand from first-hand experience that rural communities want a Basin Plan that protects the environment and allows farmers to grow the food on which Australia and the rest of the world relies. They also know that with sound policy this can be achieved.

They want governments and water authorities to acknowledge mistakes and fix them, rather than barging ahead regardless of the consequences.

Their lack of confidence in the accuracy of water volumes being recovered and their delivery for maximum benefit was further eroded during the Deniliquin flood crisis.

“We were not angry when all our evacuation work proved to be done for nothing; we were relieved. But we do get angry when our water management authorities refuse to do what the SES had the courage to acknowledge and say ‘we got it wrong’.

“We know they’ve got a lot of the Basin Plan modelling wrong. Why can’t they come clean so the damage can be rectified, for the betterment of all Australians?”

And a final word of praise from the Taskers: “We’d like to thank Edward River Council, who did a fantastic job in managing a quickly evolving situation and looking after the township during the crisis,” they said.

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