River Murray flooding prompts SA’s biggest disaster relief funding

Flooded and struggling River Murray communities will be supported by a $178 million relief package heralded as the largest disaster recovery funding in the state’s history.

Jan 03, 2023, updated Jan 04, 2023
River Murray floodwater at Loxton's caravan park. Photo: Darryl Prime

River Murray floodwater at Loxton's caravan park. Photo: Darryl Prime

The extra $126 million announced by the state and federal governments today will boost existing emergency funding relief including for business owners already reeling from the flood’s impact.

Small businesses can now claim up to $60,000 in relief funding while primary producers can claim up to $75,000 to support work such as rebuilding levees or replacing pumps.

“The clean-up is going to take a lot of manpower, it’s going to a lot of effort from men and women across the state, it’s going to need a lot of resources,” Premier Malinauskas said, with the new funds on top of $52 million funding already announced.

“This is the biggest funding package to any disaster to our knowledge in the state’s history.”

Malinauskas said among the new funding, $10 million will support getting about 3,190 properties across the state re-connected by SA Power Networks “and there are 200 sparkies we have identified across the state” who would prioritise the effort.

He said that $60 million would be directed toward waste management across nine affected council regions as “this is the biggest doozy”, with a major cleanup expected as waters recede.

The Premier also warned of upcoming black water events likely to lead to large fish kills, with $800,000 allocated to clean ups, with extra funding set aside for those requiring legal assistance.

The emergency support package includes:

  • Property Assessment and Essential Services Reconnection: $10 million to assess damage to primary residential properties including structural damage, electrical infrastructure and reconnection of services.
  • Small Business Recovery Grants: $9.3 million (up to $50,000 per business) to help affected businesses get up and running again.
  • Primary Producer Recovery Grants: $45.9 million (up to $75,000 per producer) for clean-up and reinstatement of the primary producer businesses.
  • Waste Management Program: $60 million for assessment of hazardous waste, including disposal, and other waste management activity. Blackwater: $800,000 to assist with clean-up of large-scale fish kills.
  • Legal Assistance: $250,000 for legal assistance for affected people and businesses.

“What we have been trying to do from the outset is try and identify need and to try and address it,” Malinauskas said.

“Local governments, particularly in regional communities, don’t necessarily have the balance sheets to be able to undertake the sort of response that is required of this scale.

“When we think about where to from here, clearly what we will be analysing at the first available opportunity is how much damage has been done to infrastructure once the waters recede.”

It is too early to estimate the scale of damage being caused by flooding, with 19 roads closed after inundation just one example, with assessment undertaken once floodwaters recede.

State Emergency Services chief executive officer Chris Beattie said the River Murray peak was continuing to fall at the border and was now at 166GL per day flow, with falls in river heights being recorded at Renmark, Lyrup and Berri.

The peak was expected to reach Cobdogla later today and then to hit Waikerie over the next few days.

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Beattie said about 3400 properties were now experiencing some flooding, with 393 of those deemed primary residences.

Darren Davey on the second floor of his shack at Scott’s Creek, Morgan. Photo: AAP/Matt Turner

Work also has been underway to build another levee around the Mannum Rowing Club to deal with a failing stormwater drain, while about 350m of Defencell barriers built at the Goyder Highway in the Riverland had allowed it to reopen to traffic.

River Murray communities reeling from levee costs or bleeding hundreds of thousands of dollars as flooding decimates business desperately need more funding to keep running, according to one local leader.

Murray Bridge Mayor Wayne Thorley said the State Government’s latest funding announcement would particularly help primary producers  suffering in the region.

Agricultural levees are currently failing to hold back water at Mypolonga, Toora, Mobilong, Cowirra, Wall Flat, Long Island, Long Flat, Killsby and Swanport.

Thorley said numerous local farmers were already under financial stress from having to build their own private levees, with one farmer alone spending between $80,000 and $100,000.

Another had lost land that was used to grow organic hay for cattle on a station in the north, while the Murray Bridge council had spent about $400,000 building a 500m levee at Mypolonga.

Thorley said the levee breach at Wall Flat north of Murray Bridge meant buffalo farmer Corey Jones was forced to move stock to higher ground for the second time.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the Federal Government is standing by South Australians “to help wherever and whenever it is needed”.

“This assistance will provide invaluable support to residents, farmers and businesses to recover from this flooding disaster,” he said.

“The quicker we recover, the sooner we can begin investing in mitigation to lessen the impact of events like this in the future.”

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