Warnings as powerful River Murray flood water sweeps fridges, BBQs in its surge

Apricot grower Peter Conrick spotted two fridges, a lounge chair and a gas bottle still attached to a barbecue perilously racing along River Murray flood waters this week at Murbko.

Nov 30, 2022, updated Nov 30, 2022
River Murray flood waters at Morgan about 35km from Murbko. Photo: Vicki Crawford

River Murray flood waters at Morgan about 35km from Murbko. Photo: Vicki Crawford

In a short, 15-minute dinghy ride checking water pumps and buildings alongside his water front property, Conrick also saw logs, sawn timbers, cans and bottles streaming past – and he believes this is only the beginning.

“I was surprised at the amount and type of flotsam that I saw with only travelling along three kilometres of river,” he says from the family property between Blanchetown and Morgan.

“(But) this is only the start of what is going to come as the waters rise higher. And the water flows are fast, in a minute I would probably be a hundred metres down the river: it’s really fast and really powerful.”

His warning is backed by Royal Life Saving SA which cautions against swimming in the River Murray as flood waters rise. The river has already been labelled a blackspot after 19 people drowned in the Riverland to Mildura regions over 10 years.

The Conrick family remembers watching debris being swept past their home in 2016 high waters and in the 1990s but Conrick’s wife Jill says this flood is causing more concern now they have grandchildren near the river.

Jill Conrick says family members were out in kayaks over the weekend exploring the rising waters neighbouring their property where they also farm sheep and grow crops.

“My granddaughter’s mother was wondering how deep the water was and she said ‘I think it’s pretty deep Mum, I’ve just been over a swing set’,” she says.

Fruit grower and farmer Peter Conrick explores flooding River Murray waters at Murbko between Morgan and Blanchetown. Photo: supplied

She says an electrician has moved their water pump further uphill from the river but there are concerns it could still be affected by flooding and prevent the family from irrigating their 1500 apricot trees over summer.

And she said the flood waters are making the family far more cautious about the hidden dangers to swimmers and boaties near the river.

The State Government has forecast a peak flow next week in the Riverland of 175GL per day over the border, with a second, higher surge of 185GL around Christmas time, which would be the highest flows since 1956. There is a chance this peak could reach 200GL or even 220GL.

Royal Life Saving SA ended up cancelling a series of round tables on river water safety it had planned for the Riverland in November after towns began protection work against high flows.

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The meetings were planned due to statistics showing in the 10 years to 2020-2021, 21 people drowned in the Riverland and Mildura region stretching from Blanchetown to Mildura and Wentworth – and 19 were in the River Murray.

Royal Life Saving SA acting chief executive officer Jake Culkin said swim programs at pools in the Riverland during December and January would spell out safety on the flooding river, along with another with a multicultural focus for adults in January.

Culkin urged all swimmers to avoid the river including locals with knowledge of the environment. If they do swim, lifejackets should be worn, no-one should be alone, and swimmers need to be aware of submerged or moving objects.

Data showed 52 per cent of those who drowned in the decade were within five kilometres of home and 97 per cent were males.

Culkin said new plans for a roundtable would be organised in the new year.

Meanwhile, Peter Conrick is preparing for powerful flows and high waters.

He has lived on the river all his life, with his early years spent on the Darling River that feeds into the River Murray, and he has seen many floods including in the 1970s.

“As a kid I remember the ’56 floods,” he said.

In 1956, high waters devastated many river towns, with a peak of 341GL, while in 1974 the water levels reached 180GL.

“It’s big and it’s powerful and that’s what we are going to see again: my gut feeling is that it will be higher than ’74,” he said.

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