Time to start using technology when forecasting floods
Published 09/02/2010 | 05:00
The flooding last December was clearly unprecedented and, although in certain circumstances water levels were increased by poorly planned development, there was flooding in areas that had never experienced it before.
Whether it is an indication of future patterns remains to be seen, but what is apparent is that some intelligent thinking needs to be applied to what can be done to reduce the consequences of future flooding.
Could the impact of the flooding have been controlled to some degree? The answer is yes; had available information and technology been put to better use.
As well as the more traditional flood-risk maps, there is a wealth of information available through State agencies, which should have warned of the impending disaster. Several agencies are responsible for the collection and dissemination of water-level monitoring.
The Office of Public Works, the lead agency for flood risk management, operates an extensive hydrometric network which routinely measures ground water levels.
The national register for hydrometric gauging stations is available on the EPA webpage, detailing 1,958 measurement sites. Descriptions of many stations include reference to 'data logging equipment', indicating that some monitoring equipment is fitted with systems providing electronic data, which chart groundwater levels on a day-to-day basis. The important aspect is that these gauging stations hold key information with real-time data capability (as-it-happens measurements) that, with just a little thought and investment, could form the basis for a network of early flood warning systems.
It's clear that with the persistent heavy rainfall through last summer, groundwater levels would have been abnormally high, so the potential for flooding increased significantly in the face of further heavy rainfall in November. It was a missed opportunity that this data, being so accurately collected, was only being used retrospectively and not used as a means to warn people in areas vulnerable to flooding.
Most farmers are comfortable with mobile phone technology; and use phones for much more than just making calls. A centrally managed system using text messaging could be developed to warn farmers of unusually high groundwater levels and river flows at times when it could present a risk if more heavy rainfall was expected. The information could vary according to location, even right down to regional or district levels.