Cavernous potholes along evacuation routes, blocked drains and gouged riverbanks in western Sydney’s Hawkesbury region need to be fixed before the flood-prone community is inundated again, an inquiry has been told.
The effect in the Hawkesbury region is different to the devastation wrought in northern NSW, federal Labor MP for Macquarie Susan Templeman told the NSW upper house inquiry in Windsor on Friday.
Eight properties were completely destroyed and hundreds more damaged or deemed uninhabitable.
Coming on the back of bushfires and another flood in previous years, she said this year’s disaster had taken an enormous emotional toll on the community.
“Not just as a result of the natural disaster, but of the very slow response that has been delivered to them,” Ms Templeman said.
State Liberal MP for Hawkesbury Robyn Preston said the community is exhausted.
Both said there was an urgent need to restore riverbanks damaged in the flood.
“The biggest single failure by the state government has been to resolve the riverbank destruction,” Ms Templeman said.
“There are giant horseshoe shaped gouges out of the river on people’s land.”
Landowners along the river wanted to restore their section of the bank themselves.
“They’re not asking for a lot of government support, they are asking for the ability to cut through red tape,” Ms Preston said.
One local farmer told the hearing’s public forum he has had to lay off staff and can’t resume business until the riverbank is fixed.
“We can spend a million dollars to get our farm back … three days rain, we can lose everything again,” he said.
The damaged riverbanks meant water was pooling instead of flowing away, leaving a legacy of mould in homes and businesses, Ms Preston said.
One high school had been forced to close due to rampant mould.
Riverbank restoration should have been done faster and better following floods in March last year, Hawkesbury City Council mayor Patrick Connolly said.
“Unfortunately we have a second chance at that now.”
At-risk councils should be allowed to levy residents to fund emergency management, he said.
A request to charge $15 per property to fund emergency management was knocked back by the state.
Ms Preston suggested another levy should be placed on new developments, with funds used to maintain drainage systems.
“No one is taking responsibility for (drains). No one is cleaning these drains out,” Ms Preston said.
A community member told the hearing she caught meningitis in the 2021 flood after returning to her home, before wading through resurgent floodwaters from backed up stormwater drains.
Mr Connolly said the council does not have the expertise or the staff to address the amount of blocked drains and potholed roads.
The local mayor and the state MP both said the nearby Warragamba Dam wall needs raising.
A community member told the hearing the government needs to instead change its policies on water releases.
“We need them to be able to release water for two or three weeks prior to them needing to,” he said.
“At the moment the volume (of water) just wrecks the riverbanks.”
Others were applauded for suggesting the dam should be primarily used for mitigation instead of water storage and limited to holding 80 per cent of its capacity.
The dam’s level is a source of anxiety in the community according to one community member.
The NSW upper house inquiry is separate to another inquiry being led by Professor Mary O’Kane and former NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller.