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River Murray levees fail amid high wind, high flows
Questions are being asked about South Australia's flood recovery efforts after levees at Pompoota, Long Flat and other locations were overtopped or breached.
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Questions are being asked of the repair job done on the Lower Murray’s levees after several were overtopped or breached on Friday morning.
Persistent westerly winds pushed River Murray water levels about 55 centimetres higher than usual on Thursday night, to about 1.3 metres at Murray Bridge.
Residents in several riverfront areas, including Long Flat and Pompoota, awoke to the heartbreaking sight of water filling their floodplain properties for the second time in a year.
In many cases farmers had only just sown pastures on their swamps after spending months pumping out last summer’s floodwaters.
The State Emergency Service issued a warning on Friday afternoon about flooding behind the following levees:
Glen Lossie (Burdett/Murrawong)
Kilsby (Tailem Bend)
Westbrook (Tailem Bend)
Placid Estates (Wellington East)
The SES warned people to stay away from any breaches, and never to walk, ride or drive through floodwaters.
Wind and water levels were dropping, but people would need to continue to take care “over the next few hours”.
At Pompoota, truck after truck full of rocks and soil reversed carefully out onto the levee to shore up a section 20 to 30 metres long where water had begun flowing over the top onto the Lindner family’s dairy property.
Neighbours and a local earthmoving company all rushed to help while the property’s owners deployed pumps in new places.
Cowirra producer Roger Schmidt said it was frustrating to see that repairs to the Pompoota levee had not been completed to a good enough standard.
“I was at a meeting a few weeks ago (saying) ‘we need to get stuff done’,” he said.
“They said ‘the forecast is low, it’s all under control’.
“Then this s*** happens.”
The state Department for Environment and Water’s reluctance to take risks – such as allowing people who were not licensed government contractors to help fix government-owned levees – ultimately led to riskier, more urgent situations like this one, Mr Schmidt suggested.
At Long Flat, water was flowing over a previously repaired section of the levee on Friday morning as civil engineers worked to patch it up.
‘These levees shouldn’t be failing’
State MP Adrian Pederick said the unfolding emergency proved that the government had work to do in the area of levee management.
“The government need to act quickly to get the levees up to speed,” he said.
“We need to be doing more than just patch and repair.
“We need to make sure these levees have been built up to the minimum standard of where they were at the start (of the 2022-23 floods), and we need to keep the conversation going about where they need to be in the future.
“These levees shouldn’t be failing when the river is only at 0.85 (metres), even with wind effects.”
On Friday evening, opposition water and River Murray spokeswoman Nicola Centofanti called for an urgent inspection of all Lower Murray levees.
“The breached levees are a massive (state) government failure and now we have huge concerns other areas could be at risk,” she said.
“We know the river has been rising, so why haven’t these levees been properly maintained to ensure farmers and their crops are protected from ruin?
“(Premier) Peter Malinauskas must … order an urgent audit of all levees to ensure they are sound, and those that have been compromised must be reinforced.”
The opposition and crossbench parties have already committed to a parliamentary inquiry which will focus on the adequacy of the state government’s flood response.
Deputy Premier Susan Close initially described the Liberal MPs’ statements about the episode as “misinformation”.
However, she later clarified her remarks in a one-on-one interview with Murray Bridge News.
Report a levee breach: Call the State Emergency Service on 132 500, or contact DEW levee recovery manager Birgitte Sorensen on 8463 6942 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get help: Visit the flood recovery centre at 28 Bridge Street, Murray Bridge; call the state relief and recovery info line on 1800 302 787; or or mental health support, visit www.sahealth.sa.gov.au.
Contact Murray Bridge News: Call Peri Strathearn on 0419 827 124 or email email@example.com.
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