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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Australian Floods

After a prolonged gut wrenching drought, large parts of Australia are experiencing epic floods.  It seems very likely that such, so called, 200 year floods could now occur every decade or so.  I could easily be wrong.  Predicting the climate is only slightly more reliable than predicting the weather.  The question is whether or not the Australian community is willing to bet on not having such floods over the next few decades.  And even if another such flood does not occur in the next few decades, it will reoccur at some time in the future.  Are the Ausi Communities willing to leave to their children the legacy of a repeat of the present disaster......

Or are the Ausis willing to bite the bullet and put out the effort to make sure that future flood events bring great benefit instead of great loss to Australia.  After all, in a country plagued by drought, arguably, enough water has fallen on Australia to last her for a decade.  Most of this manna from heaven has flowed out to sea.  What could the Ausis do.

Climate Change
First, forget climate change.  Sure many commentators predict that with climate change Australia will have bigger floods and harsher droughts but it isn't necessary to invoke climate change.  Just look at history.  Australia has had severe floods in 1890, 1893, 1896, 1898 and 1974.  This is just a sample.  There were many more.  The floods of 1893 and 1974 were higher than the present (2011) flood.  Brisbane and other towns of Queensland and Victoria have flooded before and will flood again.

Mark the floods
The second item on the agenda is not to forget the extent of the floods which have just occurred.  It is an all too human characteristic to forget how bad it was as soon as it is over.  Communities need to put up markers showing how high the water came.  This can be stakes similar to road mile markers wherever the maximum extent of the flood crosses a road, plaques in sidewalks, markers on walls of buildings which survived and so forth.  Every person will know how high the water came in his area but must be made aware of the extent of the inundation in the years to come as they visit or move to other communities.  Anyone thinking to buy a house or business must know if the building is in the flood plain.  When this is suggested in council, note who objects.  Could the objector have a building in the flood zone that he want to get rid of.

Move Buildings or Rebuild Up slope
At present Aus is rich. She is arguably the only country which didn't have a recession in the 2008 'downturn'.  She is rich because she is selling off her family jewels (minerals), mainly to China with only the gangue removed but that is another story.  The point here is, at present she could afford to take radical measures.  In the future this could well change.  What I would suggest is this.  The government gives full compensation to anyone in the flood zone.  The owner of the house or business could opt to simply take the money and bank it or they could use it to rebuild up slope.  However, any business or house in the flood zone has a note put in her LIM report that this building is in the flood zone and will not be flood-insured in the future.  In addition, if it is flooded again, no government compensation will be given.  This is a one-off.  Use it as you will.  

Clear the Flood Plain
Demolish and haul away every building possible except for businesses which absolutely have to be in the flood plain.  Turn the flood plain into parkland, wilderness or farm land and do not build levies.  In fact, as soon as a village has been moved up-slope, tear down the levies.  Levis increase the height of flood peaks downstream.  You want flood waters to be able to spread out as far as possible.  This greatly lowers the flood peaks downstream as the water spreads out and than drains back into the channel.  Floods also deposit much needed new soil on the flood plain which then doesn't reach the ocean and pollute Australia's coral reefs. Plant deep rooted trees in the flood plain which not only will create very attractive recreational areas but will slow the flow of water when the next flood comes.

Rebuild with Flood Proof Buildings
Any buildings that have to be in the flood plain, rebuild to be flood proof. This can include having very sound deep founded foundations, houses raised on stilts, blow out panels on the ground floor which give way when a flood comes, saving the building and so forth.  It will be expensive and should only be undertaken for buildings which absolutely have to be in the flood plain.  With respect to buildings, there are two types of location on a flood plain.  One is an area where, during a flood, there are strong currents.  Generally this is near to the channel but not always.  The second is where water simply rises and then falls but without much of a current.  Building solutions are different for each of these types of location.

and how about the benefits from such floods

Live with the Environment
Aus may well be entering a period of extreme weather.  This means very prolonged drought interspersed with very destructive floods*.  Desert people all over the world have learned to live with such conditions.  The Nabateans who lived around the time of Christ in the area of Petra had floods and drought and worked out ways of saving the water for the dry periods.  In the scale of things, their efforts were arguably greater than the Ausis would have to make.

* many would argue that she has always been in this situation

Turn water back into the interior
The Snowy mountain project does this to a small extent.  Find every place where it is possible to turn the water which is flowing toward the Tasmanian sea back into the interior.  This can include tunnels bored through the mountains so that when the water in a given dam rises to just below full, water pours down a tunnel and comes out to the West of the mountains.  This is not a small project but Australia is the leading mining country of the world and has the technology to do it.  At present she also has the wealth.  The only really good way to store water in a desert is underground and as much water as possible should be put into the interior where it can soak down and replenish the water tables.  It might be necessary to flood farms here and there but it is far less expensive to compensate a few farmers who run a sheep per 10 hectares of land than a to compensate the people of a village or city which is destroyed.  Besides, when the waters finally soak into the ground, the farmer in question has an unlimited supply of ground water available to him.

A second method is to use  electricity from the down flowing water and using it to pump water to the West.  However simple tunnels have to be the first choice where possible.  The works necessary to pump a significant portion of the recent floods into the interior would likely be beyond even Australia's resources.

Take advantage of the Rebuild
Rebuilding houses and business premises in new locations can have huge benefits to Australia.  All buildings can incorporate high thermal mass, external insulation, built in water heating solar panels and photo-electric panels, insect and fire proof construction and so forth.  Aus could end up with houses which are far more ecologically friendly, more comfortable, invulnerable to fire, flood and insects and use far less energy.  It would be similar to "The New Deal" in America which left her far better off than before the depression.  Aus could end up far better off than before the flood.

Disasters are also opportunities.  The greater the disaster the greater the opportunities.  Disasters are a bit like death.  If there was no death we would still be a bacterial slime.  Death clears the way for new forms of life.  The great extinctions of the world cleared the way for new ecology's.  On a much smaller scale, disasters such as the Australian floods can be opportunities for small leaps forward.

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