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Hawkesbury’s back-to-back record-breaking floods leave voters scratching their heads ahead of NSW elections

Warren Hornsby lives and runs a drilling company on the banks of the Hawkesbury River in northwest Sydney.

He keeps a large amount of equipment in a shed on the same riverside property in Pitt Town.

A year ago in a major flood, his entire meter was submerged.

Mr Hornsby’s house was flooded.(By: Warren Hornsby)

He hastily assembled several excavators and vehicles on high ground.

otherwise all his livelihood would have been lost.

“We had to evacuate all our jobs and our homes,” Mr Hornsby said.

“I have a big cleaning. I’m still cleaning up today.”

Mr Hornsby is one of many flood-affected Hawkesbury residents determined to stay, but the debate over flood mitigation has escalated in the Liberal stronghold.

Man standing by a large uprooted tree
Large pieces of debris brought by the flood are still on his property.(ABC Radio Sydney: Declan Bowling)

déjà vu

Hornsby’s neighbor, Dave Murphy, said the flooding was a recurring nightmare.

Mr. Murphy was due to move into his newly renovated house in March 2021, but the house was submerged in a flood. It was completed in just three months.

House flooded up to the roof
Renovations to Dave Murphy’s home had just been completed a few months ago.(By: Dave Murphy)
A man and two children in a flood.
Three major floods and two minor floods have hit Murphy’s home in the last three years.(By: Dave Murphy)

“It was like the place was completely lost. It almost flipped and started over,” he said.

The house was rebuilt to be more flood resistant. But the day before they returned, in March 2022, it happened again.

“We just moved out and couldn’t live in that house,” Murphy said.

“The bubbling water was very aggressive. It was very fast.”

Despite being hit by two major floods, he was knocked back for a flood restoration grant.

“I laughed at it. They’re knocking back people like us,” Murphy said.

12 months later and still recovering

The March 2022 flood was the biggest since 1978. In his 14 days from late February to his early March, the Hawkesbury-Nepian River flooded more than 634 millimeters.

Aerial view of flooded farmland
Major floods hit the region in February 2020, March 2021, March, April and July 2022.(ABC News)

The region experienced five floods between February 2020 and July 2022.

A year after the March floods, residents are still feeling the effects.

Woman examining thick green grass on the farm
Mary Mifsud said the floods set back her lawn farms for at least three years.(ABC Radio Sydney: Declan Bowling)

Wilberforce lawn farmer Mary Mifsad’s entire crop was submerged three meters. A huge pile of sand rises above her field, the silt that is the visible evidence of her problems.

Grass is full of sand and too heavy to harvest and sell effectively.

Woman standing next to a large pile of sand
Sand deposited by floods is an ongoing problem.(ABC Radio Sydney: Declan Bowling)

“Instead of loading 600 meters on a truck, we can only load 250-300 meters because a roll can weigh up to 50 kilograms,” Mifsud said.

In addition to sand, there is also the problem of repairing irrigation systems, weeds and debris dumped all over the farm. She says successive floods set her back for three years.

tall weeds in sandy soil
Seeds and weeds were set up by the floods and continue to sprout months later.(ABC Radio Sydney: Declan Bowling)

In addition to the disaster, the rising cost of living is also devastating.

At Christmas, there were lines of people waiting up to three hours at the Hawkesbury’s Helping Hands warehouse in South Windsor, while other major charities closed their doors over the holiday break.

Woman looking expressionless standing among shelves of canned food and water bottles
Lindy Strickland says people squeezed by rising rents and interest rates are looking for help.(ABC Radio Sydney: Declan Bowling)

President Linda Strickland sees new people struggling to make ends meet as rents and interest rates rise.

“They’re struggling to pay their mortgages because interest rates are rising,” Strickland said.

A man and woman wearing orange vests examine canned goods shelves
The charity closed in February, taking a hiatus for the first time in 11 years.(ABC Radio Sydney: Declan Bowling)

“For some people it comes down to mortgages, food and electricity. So there’s a whole new demographic that needs help.”

Strickland said the area desperately needs more mental health services, especially for young people.

“The community is really hurting, and we see it every day,” Strickland said.

Four people in orange vests smiling in front of a van
Charities saw a surge in demand and others closed for Christmas.(ABC Radio Sydney: Declan Bowling)

future flood

An important topic for residents is how to manage future flood disasters.

Liberal Robin Preston has been Hawkesbury MP since being elected in 2019 and has elected only the Liberal Party since 1950.

Robin Preston speaks into an ABC microphone held by Simon Marney on a ferry with the river in the background.
Robin Preston was elected to the Hawkesbury seat in 2019.(ABC Radio Sydney: Declan Bowling)

situation The government has announced a $2 billion project to raise the Wallagamba Dam walls by 14 meters, with or without federal funding.

“I need to protect 70,000 people under that wall and give them certainty.

Challenging Labor’s Preston is Hawkesbury City Councilor Amanda Kotrash.

Water flowing from the Warragamba Dam
The Warragamba Dam is Hawkesbury’s most talked about dam.(By: Water NSW)

She is against making the walls taller and believes the focus needs to be on improving evacuation routes.

“The advantage of [raising the wall] It will take a very long time and it will cost a lot of money,” Kotrash said.

There is also the problem of building on flood plains. Both the Liberal and Labor candidates believe there should be no more development on the floodplain.

Woman standing by an exposed brick wall
Amanda Kotrash says raising the walls of the dam would be too expensive and would not yield immediate benefits.(ABC Radio Sydney: Declan Bowling)

But for those currently in the flood plains, Preston believes that raising walls can protect their homes.

“The certainty that we provide there will help those people move forward,” Preston said.

“You would think it would lower their premiums.”

Kotrash, on the other hand, would like to see an optional migration process for people currently in flood plains to move to safer locations.

“We start thinking about how we can move people to a better place,” Kotrash said.

Will the bluest seat change your mind?

The Liberals hold Hawkesbury by 16.6%, making it one of the safest seats in the state.

But during the administration’s final term, some voters changed their minds.

People watching as the road is cut by high waves
Windsor bridge submerged in July 2022 floods.(ABC Radio Sydney: Declan Bowling)

Warren Hornsby, Dave Murphy, and Mary Mifsud all believe that dams should be used as flood mitigation tools.

Hornsby has always voted Liberal but is considering voting Labor after being so impressed by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

“He thinks more about people and their concerns,” Hornsby said.

“He doesn’t sugar coat anything.”

Mr. Murphy will also vote liberal, but this time he is undecided.

It floods all the time so why stay?

Mr Hornsby and Mr Murphy, who live by the river, risk another flood by staying.

Murphy uses his experience rebuilding through multiple floods to show others how to make their sites more flood-tolerant.

A man in a house with a blue cloth carpet on the floor.
Murphy wants to make his home more flood resistant.(ABC Radio Sydney: Declan Bowling)

For example, swollen wooden floors have been replaced with polished concrete, and beams are made with water-resistant turpentine.

“Where are the opportunities and opportunities to live on the river? Can the kids ride their bikes and run around, is it on the property and is it on the river?” Murphy said.

man water skiing on river
Despite the risks residents say the lifestyle is a reason to stay.(ABC Radio Sydney: Declan Bowling)

“That’s the price you pay to live there, isn’t it? It’s been almost 30 years since the last flood. [before 2020].”

“They come cyclically and that’s it.”

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https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-03-03/hawkesbury-after-the-floods-and-ahead-of-the-nsw-election/102041104 Hawkesbury’s back-to-back record-breaking floods leave voters scratching their heads ahead of NSW elections

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