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Flood Risks

January 27th, 2011 by Viv

There is a growing chorus seeking to ban building on flood prone land.

Many settlements started near a permanent water supply on good alluvial soils, often at places where pioneer tracks crossed rivers or where pioneering ships berthed in river estuaries.

All such land is likely to be flood prone. It is not “certain” to flood in any particular year – it is “certain” to flood some time.

Similar water risks go far beyond flood plain inundation and include events such as flash flood, tsunami, tidal surge, dam failure, land slip, mud slide, wave erosion, storm damage, avalanches and advancing glaciers; even rising sea levels if you live as long as Methuselah. Will we also ban development on all of this land?

There is some risk associated with every block of land and the risk varies from place to place.

Some land brings higher risks from lack of water such as drought, bush fires and sand storms; or is located in unstable places where earth tantrums bring volcanic eruptions, earth-quakes, fault movements or subsidence.

Then there is property threatened by noxious neighbours such as wind towers, old mine workings or risky dam developments.

Someone could probably develop a “ban building” case for every bit of land on earth.

Whether he knows it or not, every land occupier assumes the various risks associated with that land. He should be free to do so. The price paid for the land generally reflects these risks and it is the responsibility of buyers and their advisers to enquire about flood and other risks.

But other people should not be forced to share that risk. Risk sharing should be a matter of free choice between every owner and his chosen insurer, even if that is “self insurance”. Insurance contracts should be clear and not deceptive and contracts should be enforced, but insurers and property owners should be free to decide all matters regarding insurance.

The worst risk to all landowners is government action. These include blanket bans involving Wild Rivers, Strategic Cropping land, parks, World Heritage, reservations, wildlife corridors, vegetation bans, green bans, resumptions, rezoning, interference and confiscations. These seizures are generally un-insurable, un-predictable, un-appealable and un-compensated.

What should governments do?

Governments should publish clear flood plans and make sure they are readily available.

Every landowner seeking building approvals must be advised clearly of the flood history of that land.

In national disasters the most useful things they can do is get roads, water, power and airfields working as soon as possible, and clean up all rubbish on streets. Use of defence forces and equipment is sensible – taxpayers are paying for them no matter what they do and much of disaster work gives them real experience at logistics and management in difficult situations.

But no bans.

If we had banned development on “flood prone” or “high risk” areas half of Australia would be given back to the bush.

Viv Forbes

Rosevale Queensland 4340 Australia

Viv Forbes is a geologist and farmer living on a farm in the rain-soaked Bremer River valley. He lived in Brisbane in 1974 and helped friends clean up in Graceville and, as a school boy, joined Warwick volunteers who helped to clean up flooded Inglewood in the 1950’s.

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