Rain, rain, rain: can we expect floods?

Rhonda Dredge

Winter arrived this month with a full day of constant rain and locals who work by the Yarra were watching it rise with some trepidation.

Gary Bedi is the manager of an IGA on Clarendon St just 100 metres from the river.

Every time a large downpour coincides with a high tide his store gets flooded.

“It starts at Whiteman St and it builds up here,” Mr Bedi said. “It happens every rainy season. Every year it’s the same.”

He said the floods didn’t shut the shop but they can interfere with deliveries. The water runs in through the door.

Just 10.8 mm of rain fell on the first day of winter despite the miserable conditions but the staff at the Ponyfish Island bar in the middle of the Yarra were focused on the words written on the jetty on Southbank Promenade.

“Once it hits the text, we’ve got an hour to evacuate,” barman Tom Auer said. “Last night at about 6pm it got to that. It’s the first time since lockdown. A flood is long overdue.”

There have been other larger rainfalls this year, yet the bar hasn’t flooded. Are fears of flooding misplaced or are we seeing a flow-on effect from the election, which put climate change at the top of the political agenda?

A wet and warm La Nina winter is predicted and the footage of unprecedented flooding in Brisbane and northern New South Wales has had its impact on the imagination of those living near rivers.

Could the Yarra also break its banks? Locals remember when Clarendon St was knee high in water in 2018, particularly where it dips at City Rd.

“These low-lying areas are prone to flash floods,” said Professor of Practice at the Monash Sustainable Development Institute Chris Chesterfield, who has been dealing with the question of floods.

“Clarendon St flooding is flash flooding from rain falling in the catchment itself. The volume is greater than the through drainage,” he said.

The professor distinguishes these contained floods from the riverine flooding that occurred in Brisbane and says that the Yarra is less likely to break its banks than rivers in other capital cities because of good management of the catchment area by water bodies.

Professor Chesterfield has been leading the debate on water management on LinkedIn and he said that many early catastrophic floods in Melbourne had forced authorities to take action.

But not everyone agrees with Professor Chesterfield though. Brisbane received more than Melbourne’s annual rainfall in three days during the recent event. Are our water authorities being complacent about climate change?

“I don’t think so,” Professor Chesterfield said. “In the Southbank area, there is low-lying swampland and it’s hard to drain effectively.” A pump near the casino should be doing the work.

He said the issue for the Ponyfish Bar is not the rainfall but the high tides. This is where fears of climate change were of legitimate concern, he said.

“If you get really high tides and a low-pressure system, strong winds can blow the water up the Yarra.” A storm surge in the bay coupled with a low-pressure system means the atmosphere is less resistant.

Professor Chesterfield said that as far as he knew, Southbank was not on the list of at-risk sites for rising sea levels because levee walls could be built along the Yarra. He admits the issue is highly politicised, but this was not necessarily a bad thing.

“If the community is getting concerned about these issues and politicians are taking action that is very good. Sometimes things don’t have easy solutions and politicians demand quick fixes.” •

 

Caption: IGA manager Gary Bedi getting ready for the rainy season.

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