Frances always planned to fund her retirement by selling the idyllic land she has lived on for 40 years – but says the $2.5 million property is now all but worthless because of new flood maps.

She has been told that Logan Council's latest estimates of flood risks across the region will forbid any new houses being built on the Munruben rural residential property she previously believed could be developed.

In the words of a real estate agent who looked at the advance information, which is due to be officially released next month, that means Frances is "screwed".

But the homeowner fears that the new maps, which are based on modelling, may not even be accurate – claiming officials were wildly wrong even when measuring actual floodwaters in February and March this year.

She says they told her the water reached a depth of 2.3 metres in one corner of her land, while she insists the water never reached that part of the property, and says she even showed them video evidence.

Officials told her earlier this month that in the case of a one-in-800-year event, flooding on her land could get to 25 metres deep.

Frances* told *PS Logan: "I will not ever be able to sell this property for any money, because nobody will be able to do anything with it. This was my superannuation.

"If you're going to ruin people's financial futures and their lives and their health, mental and physical, then you better be factual. Not hypothetical."

Meanwhile, Munruben councillor Scott Bannan has warned that Frances will not be alone in her "heartbreaking" predicament when the maps are published online, ten years after the last flood maps were released.

He wants the release of the maps to be delayed, so that community consultation can take place and so that councillors can examine the data used in their creation.

Bannan said: "I understand stopping new development where it could flood, but it's the mums and dads and grandmas and grandads that have properties that have never flooded – all of a sudden, they've got a big blue map over it (indicating flood risk)."

Creek at the end of Webb Road in Loganlea, where another owner's dreams of development have been dashed

Banks are less likely to offer mortgages on properties marked at risk, and insurance premiums could also rise – more reasons why potential buyers could be put off these homes.

Another local property owner who has been caught out by the new maps is Michael, who asked *PS Logan to use only his first name.

He has owned land on Webb Road in Loganlea for 40 years and has long planned to develop it into residential blocks.

To comply with existing flood regulations, earlier this year he spent $10,000 on independent hydrology reports to ensure new dwellings would be built above water levels.

But when he sent them to Council as part of the planning process, he was told the reports would become irrelevant when the new maps were approved.

He said: "Basically I can't do anything. It's made that block of land worthless."

Michael said that the nearest flooding to his property in the past has been "200 metres down the road".

Ray White valuer Michael Wolf, who is familiar with Michael's property, said its value has plunged from $1.2million to $300,000 at most.

He said: "That's been the size of the impact of this stroke of a pen."

Wolf added: "I think raising the flood level is a cheap and simple knee-jerk reaction by Council that doesn't solve a lot of problems."

Real estate valuer Michael Wolf said one property's value had gone from $1.2 million to $300,000 at most

Last week *PS Logan reported that Cr Bannan wants higher levels of government involved in discussions about how to help those affected by the new maps.

He said: "It's just not fair. If the goalposts have moved, and if it's not anyone's fault other than the climate, I honestly think that all three levels of government – local, state and federal – need to sit down and work it out."

Meanwhile Mayor Darren Power admitted to *PS Logan last month: “A lot of people with existing properties will get upset because we’ve deemed their land flood-prone and it’s going to reduce their value.”

After requesting the Council's latest flood information about her property, Frances was told in June this year that recent floods had triggered "significant changes" and "a more holistic approach" to flood-risk management.

This includes details such as how dangerous a particular property might become in fast-flowing waters, and how much warning would be able to be given to residents.

After learning of these changes and realising their devastating impact on the value of her property, Frances then investigated potential compensation.

But to be eligible for Queensland's Resilient Homes Fund's buy-back scheme, properties must have been "inundated by water in liveable rooms or areas during the 2021-22 rainfall".

Frances said: "So it's no good to me because my house has never flooded."

The Munruben resident had always believed that their 11 acres of land, set across two titles, could be split into two plots either by themselves or by developers, in order for a new dwelling to be built.

She says that real estate agents had previously competed to try to win the chance of selling the land with this kind of development in mind, and had valued it at $2.5 million.

Creek that runs along the back of Frances's property in Munruben

Gesturing at the ghost gums and golden-green grass on the property, she told *PS Logan: "I had a lot of interest in it. There was a lot of inquiries, because it's a really good block of land. It's close to everything."

The new flood reports ban new development because the land has no "flood-free access", which means a way of being able to leave the house and drive away to safety during flooding without being at risk.

She was told that any new building would have to be raised above 2.5m and include a 100-metre-long ramp all the way to the road - a proposal she calls “insane.”

Frances added that in her four decades at the property, the highest water she has ever seen was one and a half metres at the back of the property, where Norris Creek runs along her land.

When she expressed her concern about the maps’ accuracy and the science behind them to the Council, she received an email that sought to reassure her.

It said: “I understand your lack of confidence in the science; we are simulating a rare event that has not been witnessed.

“As explained, in building flood models, we simulate historic flood events in the flood models to ensure they can replicate these events accurately.

“This provides us confidence in the accuracy when we extrapolate out to a larger event.”

Flooding around the junction of the Logan and Albert rivers earlier this year. Photo: Australian Defence Force

The email added that the Council takes note of debris left at the high-water mark after floods to measure the actual depths against what modelling had predicted and has found them “a close match”.

Frances has also complained that the one-and-a-half metre floodwaters at the back of her property only happened after illegal fill dumped in 2015 caused an overflow of floodwater on her side of the creek.

Logan City Council did not respond to a question from *PS Logan about whether there are plans to remove this fill.

They also did not answer a series of detailed questions last week about who put the flood maps together and what data is taken into account.

But in an earlier statement a spokesperson said: "Council understands it has an obligation under state legislation to ensure people know about flood risk and a duty of care to ensure the safety of the community."

The statement added: "Community consultation also will be undertaken as Council advances the Logan Planning Scheme 2025."

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Queensland Reconstruction Authority told *PS Logan: “There is no requirement for modelling and flood maps to be verified by the state or third-party sources.”

Experts are not surprised that the new flood maps are already causing confusion and distress among some Logan residents.

They say that flood maps are confusing, and in order for people to understand them they need to be presented with plenty of context and explanation.

Environmental historian Dr Margaret Cook told *PS Logan: “What's missing from the discussion is that these maps are really, really hard to read and I think it's really important that local governments work with the community to explain it all.”

Cook, who has researched the waterways of South-East Queensland extensively, said: “These residents’ concerns are absolutely, utterly genuine. They need answers, it’s only fair.”

The author added that the complexity of flood mapping requires a “level of math literacy that many of us don’t have.”

Part of the difficulty in understanding them comes from the huge number of variables that lead to flooding, along with how much rain falls, where it falls, and how long it falls for.

Debris in tree by Logan River shows how high the water reached earlier this year. Photo: Christine Schindler

Cook explained: “First thing any hydrographer tells you is that no two floods are the same.

“If you get 100 millimetres over a day, it's OK. But if you get an hour, it's terrible. If it falls above the dam, we're OK. If it falls downstream of the dam, we're not. And so it's never the same.”

Thomas MacPherson**, a flood engineer who works with local councils in developing flood maps, told *PS Logan that they are built around a number of different factors.

He said that while historical flood levels and chance of rainfall in a given area and within a given time are part of the modelling, new technology and engineering industry standards also play a role.

MacPherson added: “The council might also have new information, it might have a sensor on a particular stream that they want to make sure that their model aligns with.

"A lot of it is updating standards as new data becomes available, and just constantly modernising that.”

The City of Logan is built around a flood plain.

History records an ongoing fight between the whims of Logan River and the roads, buildings and ferries that have existed near it over the years, as our Tales From The River article has illustrated.

Flooding can also be both exacerbated and changed due to development, new houses, land clearing, and even debris from trolleys, bikes, branches, fill, mud, and rubbish washed downstream.

Even the slightest change in one section can have an impact further downstream.

Environmental historian Dr Cook, whose book A River with a City Problem: A History of Brisbane Floods was published in 2019, explained: “It’s really important that the flood maps get revised after every single flood, because every flood gives us more information.

Clean-up operations in Beenleigh after this year's flooding. Photo: Logan City Council

“And also, we're doing things every day that change flood profiles. Every hard surface we build or every new housing estate changes the flow rate and changes where floods will go.

“One advantage of having done this mapping is we get a much better idea of where the areas of highest risk are. It's not a case of a blanket rule of what works here will also work there.”

Industry standards for developers do include flood mitigation – for example, shopping centres with large paved areas are required to store rainfall that would have normally soaked into the soil, rather than letting it run off into drains and waterways.

Flood expert MacPherson said these kinds of mitigations can really help, but they have to be considered right from the earliest stages of the design.

He said: “If a flood engineer comes along in the later part and says, “Oh, no, you can't do that”, they just get ignored. It's needed from the very start in the planning where they build on a parcel of land.”

While councils and developers are aware of the importance of flood maps, MacPherson said he is less confident in the ability of real estate agents to advise potential buyers or sellers about risks based on their non-expert understanding of the maps.

He explained: “It does need a lot of context, knowing what it is and what it isn't (in the flood zone). It's not saying that if your building is outside of it, that it will never flood. It's saying that based on their modelling, with whatever caveats come with that.”

“I think the sharpest edge of it all is the communication aspect, communicating what it is and isn't going to flood.”

Meanwhile, the term “one in a 100-year flood”, which is often used when discussing flood risks, is also often misunderstood – and for this reason there is a push by experts to change the terminology.

Cook said: “What it actually means is that there's a one per cent chance of a flood of that height or higher in any given year – it doesn't mean we won't get another one for 100 years.”

She continued: “We've also got the really real reality of climate change. What is happening is it's actually getting harder to model and predict rainfall so these maps can get out of date quite quickly.

“We need to recognise that our weather patterns are changing and we need to be more proactive to respond to that.”

The historian warned that all locals should have a clear idea of what they will do in a flood emergency.

She said: “If you live on a flood plain, you should have a flood plan.”

Poles at Tully Memorial Park are marked with the levels of past floods. Photo: Christine Schindler

And she believes this sort of advance preparation also needs to be done by local and state governments, rather than concentrating on emergency responses.

Cook said: “We keep waiting until we get flooded. We spend 97 per cent of our money on recovery. Even 20 per cent of that spending could be used on public education.”

According to flood engineer MacPherson, a good example of simple, effective education are the signs in the centres of Warwick and Stanthorpe which indicate past flood levels.

While Logan has historical flood marker posts in Tully Memorial Park in North Maclean, MacPherson says that putting these sorts of posts in more prominent places, where they can be seen regularly, would help educate people.

He said: “As you're driving around, you can actually start to notice these things. So if there's a warning coming out saying that, ‘On this creek, we're expected to get to level blue’ (you can) go look out on the post and see how high it's going to get.”

Keeping waterways and river systems clean, or even planting them with new vegetation, can also make a difference to the water flow rates, as well as building resilient structures.

Cook explained: “In between the ‘don't build’ and ‘go straight ahead and build’ areas, there's a whole lot of incremental things that you can do.”

Watch *PS Logan reporter Christine Schindler's video about Logan's new flood maps

And she said of Logan Council’s flood zone management and its new mapping: “It has real consequences for everybody on that map.

“The whole character of the place has changed and so has the population. So again, I'm coming back to the need to work very closely with the community so that they're better informed.

“I think that sometimes a conduit between the mapmakers, and the people on the ground is missing. And that's the critical step that we need to really address.”

Meanwhile, University of Western Australia water science and ecosystem expert Sally Thompson told *PS Logan she believes there should be a peer review system in place for flood mapping to keep local governments accountable.

And she said councils should include error bars in flood maps just like engineers or independent contractors.

But she also warned that chances of another flood event in the next 12 months are “reasonably high”, so it is best to be conservative when drawing maps of flood risks.

The associate professor added: “It’s always going to be a problem when we draw lines on maps, because they'll always be people on either side of the line. And it's never really a very clear line.”

As for the most recent floods earlier this year, *PS Logan can reveal that about half of the 265 Logan homeowners who were affected have so far sought help from the Resilient Homes Fund.

The Queensland Reconstruction Authority, which runs the $741million fund, told us there have been 60 local applications for funding for retro-fitting, 24 for works to raise homes above flood levels, and 36 people who expressed interest without yet deciding what kind of work to do.

Another 18 Logan home-owners have applied for the voluntary buy-back scheme.

* Name has been changed to protect her privacy.

** The flood engineer asked *PS Logan not to use his real name.

Additional reporting by Christine Schindler.

  • Logan City Council provides information on flood emergencies and preparedness in this downloadable brochure.

 

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