Hawkesbury River

Hawkesbury Council fails a test of leadership on flood safety

I am disappointed that Council last night reversed the position it has held for decades, and declined to reaffirm its support for raising Warragamba Dam to provide flood mitigation to our valley, through the Notice of Motion I brought to the chamber.

As I said last night, this issue is too important for it not to have bi-partisan support.

The Mayor of the Hawkesbury, Councillor Mary Lyons-Buckett voted against the motion.

In my opinion, the Mayor's position as the chair of Council's Flood Risk Advisory Committee is now untenable. In September last year, Council ratified new terms of reference and objectives of that committee, which specifically includes advocating for the flood mitigation strategies contained in the Hawkesbury Nepean Floodplain Review Taskforce report, Resilient Valley, Resilient Communities, 'in partnership with relevant state agencies and stakeholders.'

That report's signature capital flood mitigation initiative is raising Warragamba dam.

If the Mayor is unable to support the Committee's objectives and show the leadership her predecessors offered on flood mitigation, then she cannot be its chair and she should resign from that committee.

Joint Media release - Flood Mitigation

Warragamba Dam in 1960

Hawkesbury Council should support the raising of Warragamba Dam

Warragamba Dam in 1960
Warragamba Dam in 1960

Update: The result of the motion I put to Council is recounted here.

Only last year, we commemorated the 150th anniversary of the worst flood since European settlement in the Hawkesbury district. We were reminded that, back in June 1867, an inland sea of swirling detritus 30km wide stretched from Riverstone to the foot of the Blue Mountains --  the result of only four days of rain. The survivors in Windsor inhabited a shrinking island, huddled in St Matthews Church. Wearily, they grieved over the news of the drowning of 12 members from the one family, the Eathers, barely a mile away at Cornwallis. Past the mouth of the river, the beaches from Barrenjoey to Long Reef were black with uprooted trees and bloated livestock. Of course, many of the dead were never found.

Many people are unaware that the construction of Warragamba Dam in 1960 confers little in the way of flood protection to the communities downstream. The whole capacity of the dam is for drinking water storage. In the event of a rain event, there is no "buffer" to absorb flood waters in the dam and moderate its release, reducing the frequency and severity of flooding on the floodplain.

Recognising this, there have been thwarted plans to augment Warragamba since the 1980s by raising the dam wall, and we should welcome the State Government's June 2016 commitment to a $700 million program to finally raise the dam by another 14 meters, giving it that crucial buffer. It is clear that the Hawkesbury Council, representing the community most at risk from flooding, should support this new initiative. I have been advocating and writing about this for many years.

To date, Council has not availed itself of the opportunity to express this support, and it would be timely for it to do so in the face of well intended but misguided opposition from environmentalists.

Thus, I and my fellow Liberal Councillors are bringing a Notice of Motion before the chamber next Tuesday to invite my colleagues to show their support for this measure which will protect your life and property against the rare but potentially catastrophic effects of a bad flood. I will have more to say on this soon.

ORD_APR1_2018_BP_NOM(WarragambaDam)

Appearing on the ABC News about raising Warragamba Dam

I was pleased to be interviewed by the ABC today on the proposal to raise Warragamba Dam. This project will mitigate against the frequency and severity of floods in the Hawkesbury, and will save life and property.

I'll have much more to say about this soon. Stay tuned.


The Health of Currency Creek

The health of our creeks and other waterways should be important to us all. The river and all its tributaries are jewels in the area's crown.

In our city, responsibility is shared between Hawkesbury City Council, various statutory bodies such as National Parks, the EPA and Sydney Water, and another body you may not have heard of, Hawkesbury River County Council. I was pleased to be elected in 2016 by my fellow Councillors to one of the two positions as delegate from Hawkesbury council to the County Council, which is a joint effort covering the LGA's of Hawkesbury, Penrith, Blacktown and the Hills Shire.

The County Council's responsibility is largely related to weed control in and near our waterways. Since coming on board, I've been impressed at the practical and professional approach shown by its leadership and workers. My perception is that it's a tight ship, and the people know and love their jobs.

Recently, a Hawkesbury resident approached me and expressed concern about the health of Currency Creek. The creek runs east from Tennyson, through Glossodia, Ebenezer and Sackville where it joins the river.

The picture was alarming:

Concern was also expressed on social media:

I took up the issue at our HRCC committee meeting last night.

I was informed that upper sections of the 15km length of Currency Creek are frequently reduced to a series of standing ponds. Sometimes 200 or 300m long, sometimes shallow and sometimes 6-8 feet deep. The green scum is Duckweed, and blooms of it can cause the underlying water to become anaerobic "black water".

Low flows in the upper reach of creeks are a natural consequence of rainfall patterns. It was not the opinion of HRCC staff  that nutrient levels here are higher than normal because of identifiable agricultural runoff. The presence of dead fish (mostly Carp) arose from the combination of low oxygen and warm water.  Carp like cool conditions. In weather like this, they "cooked".

In terms of what might be done, HRCC's mandate concerning weed control is limited to waterways traversing non-private land. Any waterway on freehold land is not subject to HRCC control. Spraying is not advised in this case because the subsequent biomass decomposition would exacerbate precisely the conditions causing the fish death. Many water plants such as Azolla (which, for example, my neighbour's dam is full of where I live in Oakville) fix Nitrogen directly from the air, and return nutrients to the environment on decomposition. In fact, this is a strategy actively used by the Chinese to fertilise rice paddies for centuries. The Duckweed is not something that can readily be reduced, either mechanically or chemically.

However, there's good news: This section of creek, although less than healthy now, is isolated and a single rainfall event will flush such blooms out. Here's a picture taken recently of the same creek only 5km further downstream.

Here, the water is clean and healthy, and shows the spectrum of biodiversity of a healthy creek. The whole creek isn't sick, just small sections. It's the height of Summer, and no creek flows freely at all times and places.

Concerned locals should also note that groundwater monitoring occurs continuously in the same are. The monitoring station pictured below is very close to the location of the concerned resident's video, and the health of our waterways are always under review.

In my new role at HRCC, I have been pleased to witness a new GPS-based logging and reporting system that has seen the number of property inspections for weeds rise through 2,500 per year and keep increasing. This requires a data sharing arrangement with member Councils and I have been supporting the dialogue required to make this happen. The HRCC makes good use of  volunteer and vocational programs for its on-the-ground workers, and gains an increasing share of its income from commercial activities and government grants, placing a smaller burden on contributions from member councils.

If the concerned resident was worried that "no one cares" when he comes across the distressing scene of a sick waterway and posts video of it on Facebook, then I can assure him that the HRCC noticed, and discussed the matter at length within 48 hours of his post. The HRCC must operate within its' mandate, but if other environmental agencies need to be engaged, then they will be.

If you're a Hawkesbury resident and are concerned about the health of a waterway in your area, or about a noxious weed control matter that may fall within HRCC's remit, contact me and I'll forward your concerns.

-Clr. Zamprogno


Finding common ground on Windsor Bridge

thompson-square-protest

There is no more controversial issue before the new council than the project to replace Windsor Bridge. It is an issue that has tested friendships, inflamed passions within the community, and created a protest movement that uses every trick in its playbook to prevent the project proceeding.

There will be much more to say on the matter of the bridge, and of the larger issues it augurs relating to the future of our district. I hold particular views on the subject, but this post makes no argument. Yet.

And why? Because there are seven new councillors on council, myself included. I feel that the first step, the step that must occur before a substantive debate about the bridge occurs, must be for the new council to be properly briefed by the relevant departments.

So, at the council meeting on Tuesday, I moved my first Notice Of Motion which called for a briefing to be given to us on the project. I asked that the briefing be held either in Thompson Square, or in Chambers (or both), and that relevant RMS, ministry and council staff be present. Councillor Richards and Councillor Reynolds had moved similar motions of a more limited scope, relating generally to support for an extra river crossing, and relating to an overall traffic strategy respectively. I am pleased that both of those councillors acknowledged that my own motion encompassed their concerns, and with their permission and certain amendments, they withdrew their motions and the following was put:

"That Council:

Support an additional crossing of the Hawkesbury River.

  1. A Councillor Briefing, incorporating presentations from relevant RMS and Council staff be held to provide details on the current status of the Windsor Bridge project.
  2. This Briefing should address project status, heritage, traffic performance, design and aesthetic issues (including open space) and maintenance responsibilities.
  3. A further Briefing be held for RMS and Transport for NSW officers to outline options and planning for future river crossings including commentary on the impacts of proceeding with the current Windsor Bridge replacement.
  4. That Briefing canvas the various options to give substantive effect to achieving the actions and funding of studies and investigations."

My background to the motion, furnished to assist my colleagues to understand why this was important, stated:

"The state of the Windsor Bridge replacement project is the most contentious issue before the new Council. The expectation of some is that Council should quickly resolve to reverse its former support for Option 1 and now formally oppose the project.

With seven new Councillors in the new term, there is clear merit in receiving a briefing on this issue before such a resolution comes before the Council, especially when it seems obvious there is sincere disagreement on some matters of fact.

To assist the General Manager identify which public officials should be invited to best achieve the briefing’s purpose, and to permit those officials to be adequately prepared, it is proposed the matters to be discussed could include (but not be limited to):

  1. The current state of the bridge replacement project (true cost and timeframe).
  2. How the project is identifying and conserving the heritage of Thompson square.
  3. The status of nearby heritage items, including number 10 Bridge St, the colonial era drainage works, the School of Arts steps, and the remnants of Greenway’s wharf.
  4. The evidentiary basis for predictions relating to improved traffic flow.
  5. The adequacy of the project to deal with projected traffic flows on a multi-decade horizon.
  6. The proposed aesthetic qualities, form, fabric, scale and position of the new bridge.
  7. How the project will manage the slope between the upper part of Thompson square park and the water.
  8. What ongoing input Council can have in ensuring the renewed precinct will suit the communities’ needs as regards amenity, aesthetic design (stone, ironwork, landscaping etc), tourism, mobility access, parking, historical interpretation and so on – which will be Council’s responsibility to manage after State-managed works are complete.
  9. What the options are for a longer term plan for future river crossings, such as the suggestion that an additional crossing form part of the feasibility investigations for the M9 orbital.
  10. What the cost of Option 8 from the 2011 RTA study would have been, which was for a downstream bridge near Pitt Town, and how it compares to the likely final cost of Option 1.
  11. Whether the time-frame or funding of such a future crossing is in any way affected by the completion or cancellation of the current bridge replacement project."

I am well aware that feelings run strong on this issue, and my expectation is that those councillors who oppose the project should and will ask many pointed questions when the briefing is held. I hope they do! Ultimately, eleven of the councillors voted in favour of my motion, which is pleasing.

The sole vote against the councillors receiving this briefing came from CAWB member, John Ross. I'll repeat that: On the very issue that elected Clr. Ross to Council, my worthy colleague voted against councillors even receiving a briefing, even after I had made it clear that it must be regarded as the first step towards a productive, rather than an angry and sterile, debate.

I will have much more to say on the subject of Windsor Bridge, but I will do so after this briefing has been given.