Flood funds flow as shifting climate tests disaster readiness

Accepting that Australia will always be recovering from natural disasters may finally be shifting to a mindset of preventing disasters before they happen, as the effects of climate change grow more evident.

A $5.7 million community-led project at the flood-prone town of Lismore in northern NSW, aimed at slowing floodwaters before they arrive,  received sufficient community and stakeholder funding to win it $2.8m of matched federal funding from the government’s Disaster Ready Fund.

The cash comes as welcome news for the embattled regional community, which is still tackling a long-running recovery from 2022 floods that broke all local records following three successive years of La Niña.

Called “Nature-Based Solutions: Building Flood Resilience in Lismore Catchment”’, the project is the brainchild of Richmond Landcare and proposes nature-based solutions for floodplain management to restore vegetation communities at strategic points in the floodplains above Lismore.

“Floodplain forests are effective in removing volume from floodwater,” says Richmond Landcare coordinator Emily Headlam, “and in slowing the rate of water flow through the catchment and thus reducing flood peaks.

Ivy young richmond landcare kath kermode richmond landcare and jeremy stewart community advocate and volunteer crop
The project team at Richmond Landcare (From left) Kath Kermode, Jeremy Stewart, Emily Headlam and Ivy Young. (Image: Richmond Landcare.)

“We want to look upstream of Lismore where there are pinch points, places where the waterway narrows; we would look at plantings to hold the water longer in the catchment.”

Richmond Landcare plans to partner with university researchers to collect data to test that the methods work.

“We are not looking [to wait until] the next flood to be able to take measurements,” Headlam says.

“Research will be conducted with established institutions to support qualitative and quantitative assessments of restoration sites and other established vegetation communities, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the methods.”

Headlam was pleased the project reflected Richmond community values and will to do something about flooding and climate change.

And there would be co-benefits to the plantings to address flooding, she says, including to increase biodiversity and reduce erosion and sediment runoff.

“We need to develop localised solutions to climate change,” she says.

“It’s an exciting shift … a shift in how we fund solutions and goes to show the government acknowledges the credibility of the project.

“We want solutions in nature to build resilience against climate change.”

How palm forests work to slow and trap flood waters higher in the catchment.
Climate change: palm forests can play a role in slowing and trapping floodwaters.

More than $70m of federal funding will go to NSW projects, says Federal Minister for Emergency Management Murray Watt.

“NSW has repeatedly experienced devastating floods, storms and bushfires in recent years,”

Watt says. “As a country we invest far more in recovering from disasters than we do defending against them, and that mentality has got to change.”

Cosmos climate: Lismore slowly repairs

The DRF promises up to one billion dollars over five years from 2023-24 for “natural disaster resilience and risk reduction across Australia,” with project applications that were successful in Round One 2023-24 having been announced for each state and territory.

The fund aims to back locally driven projects where states and territories “contribute 50 per cent towards the cost of projects, where possible”.

Headlam says that winning the grants for Richmond Landcare and matched DRF funding had been a team effort.

“We teamed up with various organisations and applied for the government to match that funding,” she says. “The funding was in-kind and in cash, some of it was land that we’re looking to lock up.”

Richmond Landcare is now in the formative stages of adding detail to its proposed plan.

The Greenlight Project is a year-long look at how regional Australia is preparing for and adapting to climate change.

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