Second, higher River Murray flood peak to hit towns at Christmas

Another four kilometres of a protective sandbag system has landed in Adelaide from overseas to protect River Murray communities, as a new flood forecast shows a second December surge revised upwards to an estimated 185GL per day around Christmas.

Nov 24, 2022, updated Nov 24, 2022
New River Murray DefenCell flood barriers arrive from Italy at Adelaide Airport today. Photo: supplied

New River Murray DefenCell flood barriers arrive from Italy at Adelaide Airport today. Photo: supplied

Environment and Water Department chief Ben Bruce said the first peak in early December is still at 175GL but the second peak is moving faster and is now expected to be 185GL, with a chance of reaching 200GL or even 220GL.

“In positive news the forecast of rain across the catchment is lower in coming weeks,” Bruce said.

But high flows are expected to continue possibly until the end of February and “even 100GL a day is actually a very high flow”, with Bruce warning there would be a change to water quality and risk of blackwater killing fish.

SA State Emergency Service chief executive officer Chris Beattie urged households and businesses to urgently assess the risks of flooding, saying a sixth sandbag distribution site at Paringa opening today.

“In terms of levees, I can report there has been really good progress,” he said, with planning around expectations of around 4000 properties being flooded.

Levee work to protect towns, homes and structures along the river are well underway with work starting at Mannum yesterday to stem high water flow expected to inundate River Lane and the lower section of the main shopping precinct Randell Street during December.

New levees are being built at Cobdogla and also to protect the Barmera township at Lake Bonney, and Beattie said plans were also underway to potentially move livestock.

SA Health and the SES had plans to relocate vulnerable patients and residents from Renmark hospital and an aged care home “at a 190GL trigger”, Beattie said water is currently almost lapping the nearby Renmark levee’s foot.

And Premier Peter Malinauskas said SA Health is working to provide extensive availability of vaccines to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne Japanese encephalitis with risks growing as mosquito numbers grow around flood waters.

Renmark Paringa Mayor Peter Hunter said Renmark had received extensive help from 17 different councils in creating a protective barrier around the town.

“In terms of preparations in Renmark we are well ahead of all of our targets (including completing the levee near the local hospital),” Hunter said.

“I think one of the Cabinet ministers this week at the meeting in Berri called it The Great Wall of Renmark. We are getting the banks all around Renmark completed to the full 1956 flood height.

“The support from councils and contractors for river communities has been amazing… it hasn’t been dog eat dog, early on there was concerns it might get competitive but it’s been really cooperative and supportive.”

River Murray water covers walkways outside the Renmark Club foreshore this week. Photo: supplied/Facebook

Department of Transport and Infrastructure announcements include Bookpurnong Road, between Berri and Kemp Road, being closed to all heavy vehicle traffic from 7pm Friday.

The road will be restricted to one lane for light vehicles as rising water levels encroach on the road, with a 60kmph speed limits and staffed traffic light control.

Heavy vehicles over 4.5 tonnes are being instructed to use the detour route via Stanitzki Road to Sturt Highway, through Paringa and Renmark and onto Old Sturt Highway, Berri.

To prepare for flooding and rising water levels, Lyrup ferry will also be temporarily closed from 9am to 12pm on Thursday, 24 November to prepare for flooding, this ferry is expected to close again as flood water rises during the first week of December.

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Alternative river crossings are at Paringa Bridge (upstream) and Berri bridge (downstream).

The 21st Street bridge also has been closed in Renmark to ensure water flow can continue through Bookmark Creek.

Around 40 tourism business operators from river land communities met with Tourism Minister Zoe Bettison in Berri yesterday telling of ongoing hits to their houseboat, caravan park and holiday rental operations.

Hunter said one caravan park owner reported they had been struck with about 1000 cancellations already, including about 600 just in the lead up to Christmas.

Tourism across the Riverland and Murray River Lakes and Coorong regions is worth around $443 million dollars – employing more than 3500 people in approximately 600 businesses.

“Some are still able to operate whereas many others have closed or are closing, and there is a lot of uncertainty,” Bettison said.

“One of the biggest challenges is the perception that the whole of the Riverland is closed which is not the case. You don’t have to be in the river to enjoy the river.”

She said the government had committed $4 million to support the tourism industry and “we know South Australians will rally”.

“Just like they did during Book Them Out after the 2019/20 bushfires in the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island, and just like they did when the SATC introduced the Great State Vouchers to help fill hotel rooms and keep tourism businesses afloat throughout the COVID pandemic.”Hunter said tourism operators welcomed the State Government’s support package announced this week.

Fruit and vegetable growers along the River Murray still face challenges, despite the state government’s support package offering generator purchase grants of up to $4,000 for businesses switched off from the electricity grid due to the flooding.

Another $3 million was announced to meet the costs of relocating or re-establishing pumping/generator infrastructure for irrigators impacted by the floods.

Hunter heard reports of one grower having to put in a $125,000 generator and another closer to $500,000 in preparation for river flows flooding water pumps by the river, “because of the doubts” that they may be switched off by SA Power Networks.

Australian Red Cross staff and volunteer teams are working to support Riverland communities urging locals to take steps to look after their wellbeing.

Red Cross teams are running a pillowcase emergency preparedness program in seven local primary schools and calling vulnerable community members to complete wellbeing checks.

Community members can chat with staff at the Berri office at 2A Ahern Street, Monday to Friday.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Premier Malinauskas said, adding that today provided some good news that it was unlikely the first peak in flows would be higher than estimates.

He said about 400,000 extra sandbags are expected to arrive in South Australia in the coming days as part of a $4.8M flood protection package announced on Sunday and are in addition to the $9.1M commitment to remediate existing levees and build new ones.

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