Australia's leading scientific body, the CSIRO, has tapped into community concerns about flood mitigation projects to come up with a list of short term priorities.
The CSIRO dropped its initial report today, delivered in Lismore by Federal Minister for Emergency Management, Murray Watt, Lismore MP Janelle Saffin, and Lismore Mayor Steve Krieg.
This report will form the basis of how initial funding of $50 million, out of a total pool of $150 million, will be spent across the region to implement shovel-ready projects.
Big tickets items for Lismore includes $22.5 million allocated to upgrade pump infrastructure - including increasing the capacity of the Browns Creek Pump Station, and an extra Lower Hollingworth Pump Station.
It also includes $3.2 million for "trash racks", which will reduce the risk of rubbish and debris being sucked into pump intakes.
It also includes $2.6 million to install an electric pump station to replace the tractor-driven pump at the Rowing Club.
The CSIRO will deliver a more comprehensive report late next year, and Minister Watt said this could include big infrastructure projects, like retention dams and levee walls.
Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt said the first $50m would be spent on long-talked about projects like pump upgrades, community resilience projects, road raising and assessments of evacuation routes.
Asked if these mitigation measures would stop a flood like February 2022, Minister Watt said: "I don't think you can every guarantee that communities that live in areas that do flood will be entirely safe from every single possible flood
"Of course the floods we saw last year were bigger than anything that Lismore had ever seen before.
"I wouldn't want to guarantee people than we are never going to see those kind of floods again and I am not sure you could ever build infrastructure that would full protect communities but this investment will go a long way to protecting a lot more people."
Lismore Mayor Steve Krieg said the CSIRO report and commitment of the first $50 million was a welcome start on mitigation.
"For us in Lismore we have said for a long time now when are we actually going to see some action," he said.
"This announcement today is things happening. We have asked for many many years in Lismore that we need pump upgrades. Well, this is all fully funded through this report."
Lismore MP Janelle Saffin explained how the projects would be completed: "The Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation (NRRC) will have a standalone unit, staffed and resourced to implement the first round of priority projects".
Today's report highlighted eight key opportunities and shortlisted 62 projects for inclusion after consulting local government, state agencies and the community.
Many good ideas resulted from seven, one-hour drop in sessions at 15 different locations across the Northern Rivers, which took place last year.
From the community, the CSIRO received 59 formal submissions, of which nine had sufficient information to be included in the overall project list.
Mr Watt acknowledged the recovery of the Northern Rivers region following last year's devastating and destructive floods will continue for quite some time.
"For many people the events of last year are still very raw, with the upcoming anniversary bringing into sharp focus what they've been through and what they're still going through," he said.
"The Albanese Government continues to stand with the people of the Northern Rivers on this recovery and today's announcement of projects funded under the Northern Rivers Resilience Initiative builds on over $1 billion of assistance provided to the region to date.
"As previously announced, $150 million has been set aside for projects that local communities told us are a solid first step in improving the region's resilience to future disasters.
"This money will be signed over to the NSW Government to manage the agreed projects and I've asked that this first tranche of projects commence implementation as soon as feasible."
Following the devastating flood in February, $150 million in funding was made available through the Federal Government's Emergency Response Fund - managed through the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) - aimed at helping recovery and building resilience.
As part of that, the CSIRO was commissioned by NEMA to undertake the Northern Rivers Resilience Initiative (NRRI) to: understand the catchment and climate characteristics which led to the February/March 2022 flooding, rapidly prioritise projects suitable to be funded through the available $150M; and a longer term project to collect suitable data and construct a whole of catchment model for the Richmond River.
This report outlines the results of the rapid prioritisation of projects work.
To undertake the rapid prioritisation, several key tasks were completed to identify projects that had been previously identified through studies and reports but were not yet implemented, in addition to consulting directly with local government and state agency staff to help refine these and to incorporate any more recent information available.
The community was consulted "through an ethically approved process" that included dedicated seven hour "drop-in" sessions at 15 different locations across the Northern Rivers region. The engagement was designed around listening to the community's concerns, project ideas and what should be the major focus for investment of the $150 million.
- More than 330 projects were identified through local government, state agency and community feedback.
- More than 400 people attended the engagement sessions
- and 345 surveys were completed by community members to give inputs into how they weighted key themes and individual criteria in a Multi-Criteria Assessment (MCA) of the identified projects.
- From the community, 59 formal submissions were received, of which nine had sufficient detailed information to be included in the overall project list.
The MCA approach was designed based on assessment criteria identified through the NSW Department of Planning and Environment's Floodplain Risk Management planning guidelines and expanded using insights from recent Queensland Reconstruction Authority flood management investment approaches.
From the projects identified, all were assessed for eligibility for the $150 million funding based on guidance from NEMA, potential to be funded from other sources, and advice from local government staff.
In total, 62 projects were short-listed through this process and scored according to the MCA process. The raw scores were then weighted according to the results of the community engagement surveys and the overall lists ranked. The MCA process does also provide the ability to investigate other rankings, and three different investment scenarios were considered, in addition to different methods to consider funding distribution.
A number of emerging themes became obvious through undertaking this rapid prioritisation process, including:
Improved dynamic understanding of the system for all stakeholders - which includes developing a better, more robust and reliable flood gauging, information collation and advice provision process to ensure that timely flood information is appropriately communicated to all affected stakeholders and that flood awareness is a key focus of emergency planning.
Improved static understanding of the system - including developing a whole of system understanding of the role of catchment vs local scale flood mitigation, improved governance and legislation around flood mitigation and maintenance and building robustness of community resilience and communication networks.
Better understanding the role of nature-based solutions for flood management - this includes evaluating the effectiveness of nature-based solutions at the whole of catchment scale and fundamental research into the role of vegetation in flood mitigation and resilience.
Evaluate the economic resilience and strategic direction for the region - focusing on developing a long term strategy for the region including identifying critical infrastructure needed for economic sustainability.
Finally, eight key opportunities were proposed, including:
Key Opportunity 1 - Develop the emerging themes into detailed project scopes suitable for inclusion in this funding round or future funding.
Key Opportunity 2 - Consideration be given to allocation of funding according to proportion of population in the flood footprint. This would help to ensure that those likely to have been impacted from the February/March 2022 event, wherever that occurred (urban or rural) receive relatively equitable access to funding.
Key Opportunity 3 - Development of a comprehensive flood gauging, information and communication network that centralises information and makes it readily accessible to all stakeholders.
Key Opportunity 4 - Caution must be exercised when considering the implementation of any large-scale infrastructure projects until a whole-of-catchment assessment is undertaken to ensure that they will provide an overall net benefit to the region.
Key Opportunity 5 - Further consideration of the needs of rural landholders and the role of infrastructure in rural areas is needed in flood mitigation.
Key Opportunity 6 - As a matter of urgency, funding of maintenance of flood management and mitigation structures/infrastructure needs to be significantly improved.
Key Opportunity 7 - Projects identified for funding will likely need further detailed scoping and design. It is likely that this will change costs and priorities. Care needs to be taken around the allocation of funds to ensure that flexibility is provided where these costs may vary.
Key Opportunity 8 - Economic resilience needs to be considered for regional centres and the entire Northern Rivers region to identify critical infrastructure and services that are essential for flood resilience and recovery.