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The Australian Government is providing $150 million in 2022–23 for priority flood resilience projects in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales.

The Northern Rivers Resilience Initiative will provide science to inform the investment, through a process to understand the drivers behind the unprecedented flood event in February-March 2022 and develop community-supported solutions for resilience investment.

The National Emergency Management Agency has engaged Australia’s national science agency CSIRO to support the Northern Rivers Resilience Initiative, which will consider climate, catchment and hydrological systems, and the broader influences of land-use practice and infrastructure.

This $11.2 million Initiative will enable us to assess different mitigation scenarios, consider the broader influences mentioned above, such as land use, and identify and prioritise options for mitigating flood risks in the Northern Rivers region. A core part of the project is to undertake engagement with key stakeholders to seek their views regarding priorities for investment.

This map identifies the flood-effected Local Government Areas in the Northern Rivers region of NSW where the project will be carried out.

The project consists of two key parts:

  1. Rapid review and assessment – Over the first six months, previous studies will be reviewed to identify flood mitigation options across the Northern Rivers region. Each of the seven flood-affected Local Government Areas in the region, Ballina, Byron, Clarence Valley, Kyogle, Lismore, Richmond Valley and Tweed, will be consulted to identify and prioritise the most effective intervention options.

    Outcome – This work, due in December 2022, will inform investment in the Northern Rivers region in 2022–23, to support recovery and resilience efforts.

  2. Detailed modelling – This two-year program of work will collate and generate Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data to provide spatial analysis and hydrological/ hydrodynamic modelling of water movement for the Northern Rivers region. It will also involve examining and evaluating possible events or scenarios that could take place in the future, drawing on local knowledge and expertise on the catchment and flooding.

    Outcome – In addition to capturing LiDAR data for modelling and analysis of the entire Northern Rivers region, this work will deliver a detailed hydrodynamic model for the Richmond River catchment. The model will be used to investigate a range of possible scenarios and actions to mitigate flood risk in the Richmond River catchment. The final report for this work is due in May 2024.

Community and stakeholder engagement

From July to October 2022 – Engagement with stakeholders will take place by the CSIRO team in the flood affected area. To view the time-line of activity read our factsheet Northern Rivers Resilience Initiative PDF (351 KB)

CSIRO is working closely with Alluvium Consulting, an environmental consultancy, and their local staff, along with NEMA Recovery Support Officers based in the region for the rapid review and assessment over the first six months. Meetings and workshops with local councils and community groups will discuss existing available information, identify other relevant materials on flood risk, and seek community views to inform the research.

Frequently asked questions

Researchers will use sonar equipment from boats like this to collect accurate information about cross sections of the river network (known as river bathymetry) to inform their hydrodynamic modelling. This image, from geospatial experts AAM, pictures AAM personnel using sonar equipment on the water.

Will the LiDAR data sets for the modelling be made publicly available?

Yes, we will make the data sets available by mid 2023 once the collection and processing is done. Noting the final report is not due until May 2024

Please provide definitions of catchment and basin for the purposes of this project?

A basin or river basin or drainage basin is an area which all drains out through a single point (any runoff generated in this area drains out through the basin outlet). Normally there are multiple catchments within a river basin draining individual smaller sub-areas contributing to the basin outflow. Sometimes, in hydrology literature, catchment is used as a surrogate for basin. A Local Government Area (LGA) can cross basin boundaries and may include only part of one basin or different parts of multiple basins.

Don’t all of the catchments merge together, and therefore the modelling of one catchment needs to take into account the other catchments?

No, there are several separately draining catchments with the Northern Rivers region. These river basins drain through different points (and independent of each other). As such, each catchment needs to be modelled separately for hydraulic modelling.

Will this modelling take into account the impact of climate change on future flood levels?  

Yes, once the model is developed, it can be used to test any scenario including impact of climate change on future flooding. The plan is to develop a detailed hydrodynamic model for the whole Richmond catchment to reproduce past flooding history and overland flood inundation. The model will be further fine-tuned in consultation with local community (local on-ground knowledge) to make sure it can reproduce the key aspects of overland flooding at fine scales. After this, adaptation/mitigation scenarios will be developed which may be a combination of infrastructure and non-infrastructure options for any historical or future climate.

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