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Cheers - AE

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Water, water, everywhere, and all the boards did shrink - UPDATED

If someone somewhere isn't blaming Australia's pissy weather in general and the flooding in Queensland in particular on warble gloaming I'd be very surprised, but it's worth remembering that there are ways in which we can bugger things up which are much harder to argue. Take flood meadows, for example. In the UK it's been noted that some have been built on and that as a result when the local river swells it doesn't have nice permeable fields to spill into but roads and car parks, which means the flood waters extend further than they would have before some dickheads pitched up and covered acres of natural drainage with concrete and tarmac. It shouldn't come as a great shock to find out that a similar variety of anthropogenic fuckuparation has been at work here (my emphasis).
... Toowoomba - Australia's Garden City - has been battling drought for almost a decade. ... Along the way, the creeks have been prettied and preened and slotted into your typical modern urban plan. And the breadth of their flow - and their seminal right to a small flood plain - has been gradually stolen away.

At the intersections of Victoria, Margaret and Russell streets - where the boiling muddy tsunami was its fiercest and most graphically filmed - the city council had embarked on an ambitious beautification plan to turn the creek into a pleasing urban feature, complete with boardwalks, gardens, illumination and seating. Everyone thought it was wonderful, except for cynics such as my husband and me. In fact, every time we drove past the feature we would say to no one in particular: This little creek is going to make them sorry one day. Tragically, we were right.

Early yesterday morning I went back to the bruised and battered Margaret Street to support any local business that still had the heart to open. ... When I went to buy my newspaper, the newsagent told me he was devastated, not because of what had happened but because the engineer who had worked on the beautification project told him he couldn't make them listen when he pleaded for bigger pipes - "18-footers" he called them - to let the water through, because it simply didn't suit the aesthetics of the architects and landscapers.

So that's what happened to my city, folks, the same as happened to so much of flooded Queensland. We did stupid and really, really dumb things because we thought we could get away with them. We built the wrong sort of houses and the wrong sort of bridges. We built towns and suburbs on flood plains. And we ignored at our peril the forces of nature and the history of the great floods that have shaped this continent for thousands of years.

In our arrogance, we created towns and cities better suited to the whims of bean-counters and city-bound architects than the natural lie of the land. And for 20 years we cheerfully welcomed new settlers to Queensland with a "beautiful one day, perfect the next".

We didn't tell them what this place was really like when it rained.
I don't know that I'd agree that anyone, much less something inanimate like a geographical feature, has a "seminal right" to a flood plain but I get her point: we take risks when we build on something that has flooded in the past since in developing the land it loses some of its ability to drain away excess water. I'm not saying that developing such areas should not be allowed or that the decision to do so should only be made by experts such as council planners - in the former case I take the normal libertarian line that you should be able to do what you like with land you own, and in the latter case whoever refused to heed the advice about bigger pipes in Toowoomba demonstrates why leaving it to such "experts" is no solution either. However, if what someone does with their land affects what happens to someone else's that's another matter.

We can't control the rain but we can make its effects worse when it lands, and those who choose to take that risk should be liable for the effects those decisions have on others. What I'm sure will happen is a great exercise in collectivism* in which the Commonwealth government in Canberra will give billions of dollars (either already paid by or eventually to be paid by everyone in Australia) to add to that of the Queensland state government (either paid by or to be paid by Queenslanders). What ought to happen is that anyone who has been part of a decision to develop in such a way as to affect the drainage and allow flooding to reach areas that would otherwise be above water should be in a fucking court, sweating at the thought of how much this might cost them. The problem is that when any level of government is involved, and since they just luuurve telling everyone what they may and may not do with their own land this is a given, you can't simply sue the bastards. Take 'em to court by all means, but remember that while private developers may get clobbered any win against any level of government will still come from your own future taxes. An entry is made on the books and taxes, present and future, will be adjusted accordingly. It's not so much like punching fog as punching yourself in the face.

There are really only two options. First, and most obvious, is that all government planning oversight must end. This might sound as if the developers will be let off the leash completely but right now the leash is probably not kept particularly short in many cases anyway, and its length might even be directly proportional to how loaded the developers are. Ending planning oversight will at least mean that when things go pear shaped and law suits are brought it will not be the fucking plaintiffs who end up paying damages to themselves. The second option, for those who really believe that planning departments are an absolute necessity, is even simpler: make planners personally liable as well as corporate developers.

For want of an 18 foot pipe a part of Toowoomba is lost, even if only temporarily. It might not have made any difference but it is just possible that the chance of bankruptcy for ignoring that advice might have focussed a few minds sufficiently for someone to tell the architects and landscape designers to go jump in a lake.

UPDATE - not that this has much to do with the theme of planning and poor decisions, but in addition to all the problems Queenslanders are facing with the water itself they are also having to deal with other things that are either trying to escape the floods or swimming around in the extra water. Snakes, crocodiles and even bloody sharks are just noticeable hazards that might cause you to overlook the mosquito that's just helped itself to some of your blood and left you with a case of dengue fever by way of a thank you. On the other hand some animals really aren't with the scare-the-shit-out-of-everyone program and are acting like a collaboration between Aesop and Disney.

I am a frog, it's in my nature to bag a free ride. No, really it is.

* I'm hoping for a rather more inspiring act of collectivism than the "You vill make donationz by vay of your vunderful governmentz" variety. A couple of years ago the Black Saturday bush fires here in Victoria prompted people to put their hands in their pockets to help those affected, and I'm sure it'll be the same for the Queensland flooding. I've already seen at least one retailer collecting (and chipped in) and I'm sure others are doing the same. How much more would be offered if so much wasn't already taken by force I leave to your imagination.
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