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Richmond Lowlands Drain Disaster Looms: Hawkesbury Residents Demand Answers

Sep 18, 2023

Plans to repair the extensive systems of drains that operate underneath the Richmond Lowlands remain a mystery, 18 months after promises by Hawkesbury City Council (HCC) to begin fixing the problems that have festered for decades.

The drains are essential infrastructure that are needed to allow water from flooding to run off safely and in a timely manner. Their failure during the recent flood has impacted local farmers and turf farmers to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

In 2022, HCC engaged consultancy Molino Stewart to assess the current drainage system across the various properties, the outcome was supposed to be a plan for each property that Council would approve and allow works to be conducted with heights specified and other critical information. 

The consultants have been back and forth with the council but the report was only finalised about a month ago, people familiar with the process told the Hawkesbury Post.

Yet to date, nothing has eventuated and HCC would not answer detailed questions from the Hawkesbury Post. Nor would the Council explain just how badly the drains are in need of repair and what the cost will be to ratepayers.

Other questions they would not answer included: what needed to be done, how long the consultant has been engaged for and what is the cost, so far, to ratepayers.

In fact, at a meeting held by HCC and its consultant April last year it was apparent that it does not even know exactly where the drains are located. 

“We were asked to draw lines on a map where we thought the drains were on our properties. It appeared council didn’t even know where the drains were located,” one local landowner who asked not to be named told the Hawkesbury Post.

At one stage HCC went cap in hand to the state government after the March 2022 flood, many months after a sluice drain was broken, it was revealed at the meeting last year.

HCC delays have already resulted in a major disaster in the Hawkesbury River with a collapse of a drain cousin the subsequent collapse of Cornwallis Road. The saga has dragged on for more than 800 days.

Neither level of government will reveal the cost of  the project although previous estimates have been between $20 million-$40 million. State government representatives have also refused to show affected landowners plans for independent review or costings, claiming this may affect the tender process.

The HCC has also claimed that the March 2021 flood caused the initial collapse. But it was the collapse of a poorly maintained council drain, that ran from the Richmond Lowlands into the river, that caused the river bank to collapse during the flood. This quickly expanded into a small “bay”. Subsequent floods, Council delays and then a drain patch up, eventually saw an expanded canyon and an 180-metre section of Cornwallis Road lost.

Locals fear that the lack of action on the other drains in the Lowlands are another disaster –  or possibly more – waiting to happen.

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