Sam Kernaghan, Resilience Program Director, Committee for Sydney:
The time for delay and debate is over. A buyback program for the Hawkesbury-Nepean floodplain is needed now.
Thousands of Sydneysiders are returning to flood-affected homes, wondering how they are going to rebuild one more time. Many haven’t finished fixing up their houses after the last flood. The physical scars are obvious. The mental scars less so.
While the short-term reality is challenging, longer term it’s only going to get worse.
There are 6,000 properties below the flood planning level (also known as the 1-in-100 year or 1% Annual Exceedence Probability flood line). This is where we should focus the buyback program, opening it up to other areas that become uninsurable or impacted by flood events in the future.
A voluntary buyback scheme is the first and most important step towards reducing the number of residents directly exposed to flood risk. Flooding in these parts of Sydney is not going away, and climate change projections indicate rainfall events like those of 2021 and 2022 will become more frequent and more intense into the future.
The argument against buybacks is that raising the Warragamba Dam has a higher benefit to cost ratio. But raising the Warragamba Dam does not remove the risk. The Hawkesbury-Nepean floodplain is fed by rainfall from four catchments, with the Warragamba Dam reducing run-off from just one. And once that additional (14 metre) dam capacity is reached, the water will continue to overflow into the floodplain. It would give residents longer to evacuate in a proportion of extreme rainfall events, but properties would remain at risk.
Buying back these properties removes the risk to those thousands of residents forever. It would take the pressure off the SES to notify and prepare to evacuate these residents every time dark clouds gather, and it would remove the need for financial support from state and federal government to help these residents back to their feet.
It’s time to change the risk equation for residents of flood-exposed Sydney, we believe government should do three things:
- Move people out of the path of recurrent floods, using voluntary buybacks for the most flood threatened homes
- Increase transparency about current and future hazards properties are exposed to, so residents can take on risk with their eyes wide open
- Develop a long-term strategy to reduce the number of people at risk to floods, introducing tactics like land swaps and transferable development rights to enable a safer future for our city.
This would be a considered, rational and compassionate response to four flood events in 16 months. It would be a demonstration of leadership for some of the most vulnerable people in Sydney.