When a St George farmer complained that unregulated levee building was worsening floods on the Balonne, she was ignored. But when the floods came again in January, she was vindicated.
When Kylie Kilroy first raised the problem of how the unregulated construction of levees in the Balonne Shire was making flooding in her area worse in 2010, she never thought she’d be vindicated so quickly and so spectacularly.
And rest assured she’d prefer it otherwise.
Kilroy lives in a property just down the Balonne River from the town of St George. Like much of southern Queensland, this is flood plain country. It’s also the home of Barnaby Joyce and, further downstream, the ultimate testament to unregulated water usage, Cubbie Station. Cubbie is only one of many large irrigators and commercial agricultural interests in this part of Queensland.
After the floods in March 2010, Kylie began pointing out something that a lot of irrigators and big cotton farmers didn’t want to hear – that floods smaller than the area had historically seen were reaching higher and further. Crikey aired her concerns
in July last year. Her property, on a bend on the Balonne about nine kilometers downstream from St George (top right hand corner below) was directly affected by a levee on the property across the river, called Kia Ora:
Kia Ora is a 12,000 hectare cotton farm bought for $60m in 2008 by the Cayman Islands-based Eastern Australia Agriculture. Prominent critics of foreign investment in Australian agriculture expressed no concerns at the time about the sale. Hamish McIntyre, who oversees Kia Ora and other EAA projects in the area, didn't return Crikey's
As journalist Phil Dickie showed long ago
, the St George area has witnessed decades of skewed and bizarre corrupt water management policies, providing an unregulated, pro-irrigator framework that encouraged the development of the vast Cubbie dams that trapped overland water flows that would otherwise eventually find their way into the Murray-Darling system across the border. The legacy of those decisions, and the problem of un- and under-regulated water usage, continues today, perhaps stronger than ever. Building levees is unregulated, despite their impact on the hydrology of overland flows and major flooding events. There is no state regulation of levees, and in Balonne Shire, no local government regulation. You can build a levee wherever you like on your property, regardless of how it may affect the path and extent of flooding across the area.
The Kia-Ora levee can be seen in the photo above, the thin line running down the middle, west of the river. Kilroy claims it increased the height of the March 2010 floods, sending all her property underwater. The Kilroys did their best to protect their property as the water came up to their floorboards, until the Kia-Ora levee broke.
The levee breach was captured in an aerial photo: