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  • Rikki Lambert

Adelaide's northern housing boom unprepared for next Gawler River flood

Councils and the SA government are in a standoff about over $40 million in flood mitigation works needed on the Gawler River to protect housing in Adelaide's outer north, all while the clock ticks on the next major flood event in the floodplain.

FlowNews24 spoke with the floodplain management authority's chair Ian Baldwin on 15 April, the day of the latest meeting of councils at Gumeracha that support the authority.

Mr Baldwin said the said councils were committed to a funding model for the Northern Floodplain Project, or 'NFP' whereby:

"In terms of the capital cost, to look at a 50 per cent contribution from both state and federal government, with the constituent councils (that is, the Authority) picking up the ongoing cost of operation and maintenance of that infrastructure, which is quite considerable particularly if you are looking at a lifetime commitment."

When asked if, for arguments' sake, the project were to cost $40 million, would that mean the Authority wanted $20 million from the federal government and $20 million from the state government, with councils committing to pick up the running costs thereafter in perpetuity, Mr Baldwin said:

"Yes, that's correct."

The full interview is available in the FlowNews24 podcast player at the end of this article.

SA water minister David Speirs told reporters in March that the state government was looking to councils to further contribute funds towards the project:

"The six councils need to put money on the table and state and federal government will be willing to make significant contributions as well - but it needs to be led by councils.
"Councils at the end of the day are responsible for stormwater management and they need to take the leadership and we haven't seen that to date.
"There has been a lot of disagreement between councils, an unwillingness for some councils to put money on the table and get an understanding of what their role is in managing this multijurisdictional river which starts up in the Adelaide Hills and heads out to the sea at Gawler.
"There needs to be a body of work undertaken to work out what councils will contribute. They haven't been able to do that. They've had their hand out to the state and federal government - and we are happy to make a contribution - but at the end of the day, councils are responsible for stormwater management.
"We can't set a precedent where we bail them out ... while expecting other councils to pay for their stormwater management."

The Authority also flagged its interest in pursuing a future $90 million project to raise the dam wall by 10 metres on the Bruce Eastick North Para Flood Mitigation Dam, at Kingsford just upstream of the Gawler town area.

South Australian upper house MP Frank Pangallo MLC for the SA Best Party spoke with FlowNews24 in March about his concerns that the clock was ticking before the next major flood event, with no works underway:

Recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed that the fastest population growth in South Australia over the last 12 reporting months was occurring in the Gawler River floodplain area.

City of Playford mayor Glenn Docherty implied that the flood works were a high priority, but no further council money would be provided:

"Progressing design of The Northern Floodway project has been identified as a high priority.
"Funding for the final solution will require State and Federal contribution in addition to the funds that have already been provided by the Council’s and the GRFMA.

Mr Baldwin's and Mayor Docherty's positions are consistent with what the Town of Gawler mayor Karen Redman told FlowNews24 in late March, namely:

"The Council has committed to supporting the Gawler River Flood Mitigation Authority in seeking State and Federal Government funding to deliver the flood mitigation works required on the lower Gawler River.
"This was premised on the basis that the catchment Constituent Councils would retain responsibility for the ongoing maintenance of the works."

Similarly, Adelaide Plains Council Chief Executive Officer, Mr James Miller, told FlowNews24 in late March that the councils were unanimous in seeking full funding from state and federal governments, but hinted at some push-back from the state government:

"Council’s position is that the Northern Floodway, estimated at a cost of $42 million, ought to be fully funded by the state and federal governments. This position was put to the Gawler River Floodplain Management Authority (GRFMA) Board back in 2018 and unanimously adopted.
"That said, in recent times, the Board and indeed all constituent councils have been made aware that the state government will be seeking co-contributions for flood mitigation works and this process has already commenced through the state’s $9 million, four ‘no regrets’ projects.
"The GRFMA and all member councils are currently working on two key bodies of work; a stormwater management plan and a review of the charter. Both of these projects will shape the ultimate delivery of flood mitigation works and how it is funded.’

Barossa Council told FlowNews24 on 25 March that there would now be some delay with the project, saying in a statement:

"Progress will also rely on co-contributions being made by the State and Federal Governments which at this point in time is not available.
"It may be a further 12 months or more before this position can be reached given that the State Government is now requiring the completion of a Stormwater Management Plan for the Gawler River prior to any consideration being given to progressing the NFP and associated funding."

Full interview with Ian Baldwin, chair of the Gawler River Floodplain Management Authority:


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