Locals say the SES need to be more proactive as inflows from tributaries across the state continue to increase
Last modified on Tue 21 Dec 2021 04.28 EST
Communities in New South Wales’ far west are bracing for flooding as inflows from multiple tributaries across the state continue to increase, but locals say the State Emergency Services (SES) have not been proactive in helping them prepare.
The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) has announced that rainfall has left catchments saturated and water storages full, increasing the risk of riverine flooding and dangerous flash flooding this summer.

For communities in the state’s far west, the threat of severe flood risk increases the more inflows from multiple tributaries across the state continue to increase.
The BoM estimated that the Darling River at Tilpa is expected to exceed the minor flood level (nine metres) by the end of December, with major flooding above 12 metres predicted around the third week of January.
Justin McClure is the vice president and the immediate past president of the Tilpa Community Committee and a member of the Wilcannia SES. He says the SES need to be more organised to help the town which does not have an active SES unit, considering the situation is one that “won’t take much to magnify into a major threat”.
McClure says a water level of 12 metres is manageable but just another metre could affect people’s lives.
“The way this one’s lining up, with a lot of rain forecast for southern Queensland, anything could happen,” McClure says.
He says the current predictions will see the equivalent volume of Sydney Harbour going past Tilpa every week, but an even bigger flood could see the same volume going past Tilpa every day.
“And if that happens we need to be prepared.”
McClure wants the SES to commit a boat to Tilpa, assess the town’s levy bank, build the levy bank up, and make sand supplies available.
He says the SES have been preoccupied and under-resourced while dealing with the crisis in the north of the state while it was current, but he would like to see the organisation take a more proactive approach to help locals prepare for floods before the situation becomes critical.
McClure says the SES have since been in contact with him and the local community.
However, McClure says, “we only seem to get support when there’s a disaster or a disaster pending … Instead of being proactive, they want to be reactive because it creates a media storm and they get more funding from that situation.”
In Menindee, the community are on standby for flooding as inflows going down the system are equivalent to the entire 1700-gigalitre volume of the Menindee Lakes, meaning Water NSW has had to start making increasingly larger releases from the lakes.
The SES released a statement on 10 December to say they had “a six-week window to get plans in place”, but the BoM announced Monday that the river level is expected to exceed the minor flood level (8.5 metres) during Tuesday this week.
Menindee local Graeme McCrabb says town meetings arranging necessary precautions such as emergency accommodation have yet to take place.
He says very little has been done by SES so far; most of the work being done at the moment is land holders repairing and reinstating levy banks.
Menindee’s local SES unit disbanded after a lack of support for volunteers saw 14 SES volunteers transition to become Rural Fire Service (RFS) volunteers.
The RFS volunteers, who now have more than 30 members of a varying range of demographics including many women and traditional owners, have not been able to access SES equipment despite wanting to help the town prepare for flooding.
“The biggest problem is the town doesn’t get any information back and it’s difficult for SES to get information when they don’t have any local members,” McCrabb says.
The “clear solution” McCrabb says, is one agency.
“It’s too difficult to try to run two agencies in town. We don’t have enough people.”
McClure also believes the two agencies in regional towns should be joined.
“It’s the same people doing the same job. Unfortunately they get blinded by their own bronze and the bureaucracy is more important … than helping people, which is their role.”
Dave Fleming, a farmer from Walgett, where minor flooding is already occurring with predictions of flood levels exceeding moderate levels next week, is also frustrated by the bureaucratic procedures when it comes to flooding.
“I respect and congratulate the SES volunteers, however the hierarchy aren’t worth feeding,” Fleming says.
He says the situation hasn’t improved since flooding in Walgett in 2012 saw the SES dismiss the local Walgett SES volunteers, with no locals allowed to be part of the briefing, to the detriment of the situation.
A NSW SES spokesperson told Guardian Australia that NSW SES volunteers had been working with local communities for the past seven weeks in the state’s far west to prepare them for floods.
The spokesperson said members had been hosting multiple community meetings to help increase awareness and undertaking flood mapping to help inform their response.
“As the flood water has arrived in areas, our members have helped those communities respond,” the spokesperson said.
“This response is anticipated to continue in coming weeks, with resources already beginning to be deployed further downstream. More will follow as the flood water slowly makes its way south, with affected communities expecting the arrival of NSW SES members in their towns well before the flood water peaks.”
Roy Butler, the MP for Barwon, an electorate which covers a vast stretch of NSW from Lightning Ridge to Broken Hill, agrees that there should be a more proactive, rather than reactive, approach taken to natural disasters.
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Having seen some of the planning documents, Butler says the SES have comprehensive plans for the worst case scenario.
However, he says in the longer term, “we need to look at harmonising training packages for SES and RFS. Volunteers in the west are a thin market … having silos within agencies is not the way to do it.”
Butler also believes equipment from both RFS and SES organisations can be shared, but that the process of “harmonising” the two organisations is not something that can be achieved in a week or a month.
This article was amended to clarify Justin McClure’s title.
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