Plans to protect Queensland homes from rising sea levels

Annette Painter has always dreamed of retiring by the sea with her husband Luke, so when they found a waterfront home overlooking the idyllic Queensland coastline, they were thrilled.

But while the little beachside paradise is all she hoped for, Ms Painter fears she may be the last person to live in the scenic spot of Poona, an hour south of Hervey Bay.

“In a few generations people won’t be able to live where I live and I think that’s such a shame,” she said.

The local council has identified parts of its township as being at “high or extreme risk” due to sea level rise and erosion by 2100.

Mrs Painter’s house is elevated and rests on concrete pillars, but for the past five years she has seen parts of her coastal garden and her beloved frangipani tree swallowed up by a throbbing royal tide.

The back of a woman's head as she looks over the water to a boat
Ms Painter says several royal tides have eroded part of her beach backyard. (ABC Wide Bay: Lucy Loram)

“It’s really quite scary. It worries me because when we moved here people were saying it would happen maybe once every 10 years,” she said.

“If it happens more frequently, is it going to be higher?

“People higher up lose all of their beach up front. It’s the erosion, I think, that’s the problem.

“I hope that [the beach] still remains in our life, but you don’t know.”

fight the tide

The impacts of flooding from storm surges, steady sea level rise and coastal erosion are weighing heavily on communities along Queensland’s coastline.

According to current projections adopted by the state government, sea levels are expected to rise by 0.8 meters by 2100. How best to protect coastal communities is a dilemma facing many councils.

Mapping storm surge inundation in Hervey Bay
Mapping of flooding caused by storm surges in Hervey Bay.(Provided)

The Fraser Coast Regional Council adopted a strategy for the coastal future last year, mapping areas likely to be affected by coastal hazards and detailing its action plan to prepare for and respond to the risks.

More than 500 parcels of land across the Fraser Coast region have been described as “at risk” of coastal erosion or sea level rise by 2100.

The council’s director of development and community, Gerard Carlyon, said infrastructure in the area would be affected.

“We have some areas where we’re going to have challenges, but a lot of that isn’t necessarily about private property, but it’s some of the things like roads,” he said.

Middle-aged man standing on Esplanade beach in Hervey Bay
Gerard Carlyon says the council will work on a case-by-case basis to protect properties. (ABC Wide Bay: Lucy Loram)

“Some properties may not be flooded but they may very well be inaccessible.

“We have long-term planning to do, but fortunately we are doing this project 80 years before these impacts occur.”

fight or flight

Tim Smith, professor of sustainability at the University of the Sunshine Coast, said coastal councils across Australia faced similar scenarios and would have to make tough and potentially costly choices.

“We can either protect the coast, try to cope with episodic or occasional impacts by raising the level of houses, or withdraw from the coast,” he said.

“We might have a case where we get storm surge combined with high tide combined with coastal flooding.

“I think every council struggles with how we could handle this stuff.”

Middle-aged man sitting at the desk next to his laptop
Tim Smith says councils face three options to prepare for sea level rise.(ABC Wide BayJake Kearnan)

Professor Smith said local governments would face difficult scenarios.

“There is no doubt that we don’t have the resources to protect all places on the coast,” he said.

“There will be areas and small towns that will be affected that we may not be able to defend, and we may not necessarily want to defend because we would lose all the convenience and beauty of those places.

“Do we really want a future where we have rock faces covering all of our beautiful beaches?

“I think we have to think quite strategically about this.”

No withdrawal from the coast

On the Fraser Coast, many small coastal towns, including Poona, Maaroom and Tuan, have been identified as having areas at “extreme risk” of erosion by 2100.

But the local council remains optimistic about the ability to mitigate coastal risks by incorporating seawalls, rebuilding dunes, raising properties and roads and creating additional drainage routes.

“We have miles and miles of beautiful waterfront and we’re going to have to potentially use it differently,” Mr Carlyon said.

A bearing tree with exposed roots
Coastal erosion along the shoreline in Poona, Queensland. (ABC Wide Bay: Lucy Loram)

“We are going to have to build different things in these areas and we are going to have sacrificial infrastructure in certain places if we have a big cyclone or a storm.

“It will be a location-based approach and economics will play a big role in making decisions.

“But there will be no retreat from the coastline.”

Resilient houses

Where new homes are being built, building them to better withstand natural disasters is increasingly becoming a priority for all levels of government.

In May, the Queensland Government opened a $741 million Resilient Homes Fund allowing flood victims to access grants to voluntarily raise, repair, renovate or buy back their homes.

CSIRO’s head of bushfire adaptation research, Justin Leonard, said it was important for future homeowners to consider not just the design of their home, but also its location.

“Virtually every place in Australia doesn’t necessarily face just one type of hazard and it’s really important to consider the range of hazards you could face. These could be fires and floods same place,” he said.

“The design solutions for these are available when you do your research.”

The Queensland Reconstruction Authority has also encouraged residents to build climate-resilient homes.

He suggested opting for polished concrete or tile on lower levels which are more prone to flooding, installing louvers in lower levels to allow water to drain and widening stairs. so furniture can be easily moved to a higher level or out of the house. .

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