Would a Levee Protect the Bundaberg Region?

by | Oct 13, 2021

In the aftermath of the catastrophic flooding of 2013, the East Bundaberg Levee project has been selected as the ‘best’ option to reduce future damage in the event of similar events. Initially slated to cost $85m, this project has ballooned to roughly double that cost and has yet to begin while members of the hardest-hit communities continue to live in fear without any more protection than they had in 2013.

Let’s look into what is actually being proposed here and what we can make of this proposal.

What is a levee?

“A levee is a natural or artificial wall that blocks water from going where we don’t want it to go.” – National Geographic, Resource Library
Levees can be constructed for multiple reasons such as creating more space for residential, agricultural or commercial uses. More often, they are used as a form of flood mitigation infrastructure to capture storm surges and channel water in a way that reduces damage. Archaeological evidence points to levees being used in this manner as far back as 3,000 years ago in Egypt. The Netherlands continues to maintain a system of levees, dams and dykes that has existed in some form for centuries. When all goes to plan, levees effectively channel water along a predetermined path.

What happens when they don’t work?

Unfortunately, things do not always go to plan. Extreme weather events (which are becoming more common every year) can cause the levee walls to overtop or gradual erosion can lead to a breach. When this occurs:

  • The surrounding floodplain becomes inundated with all of the water previously held back by the levee sometimes in addition to flooding that would have been caused by continuing rainfall
  • Water may exit a breach at high velocity leading to further damage of the walls which actually worsens the flooding that results
  • The water that is released may not find its way to natural sediment catchments so that sediment gets carried further leading to additional damage

Another issue that arises is The Levee Paradox, a situation in which the existence of a levee creates a false sense of security for both residents and developers. This leads to an increase in construction at high-risk sites so that any resultant disasters are more likely to lead to loss of life and property.

Why aren’t levees the solution for Bundaberg?

Incredibly, the levee being proposed for our region does not claim to offer any protection for North Bundaberg residents who have been proven to be the most at risk. The protection it would offer to East Bundaberg and the CBD is also unsatisfactory. As such, the project would yield an expensive, unattractive structure that only truly protects a few suspiciously well-connected properties while leaving the rest of the community utterly exposed.

Levees have been falling out of favour as a flood management solution for some time now. Those of us who experienced the devastation of the most recent floods cannot sit idly by while resources that are intended to keep us safe are wasted on a levee we will all eventually regret. Join us and spread the word.