Perhaps I can answer your query, Hal – in short, …

Comment on LETTER: Removing sand from the Todd makes no sense as a flood mitigation measure by Alex Nelson.

Perhaps I can answer your query, Hal – in short, yes, the removal of the sand at the junction of the Todd River with Chinaman’s Creek (yes, that was its name) at the north entrance to Heavitree Gap was unnecessary. This same area was sprayed with Roundup to kill the couch and buffel grass all the way to Taffy Pick Crossing and the sand was excavated only 10 years ago (I took photographs). It was a complete waste of public money.
For a good example of where to see the effect of unimpeded water flow of the Todd River, it’s worth checking the river bank adjacent to the Arid Zone Research Institute. You’ll see an extensive indentation carved into side of the river with a sheer drop of three metres; it looks rather like a miniature version of the Great Australian Bight. This feature was caused by the flood of 1988, when the river water carved out a chunk of land (at least in the hundreds of tons of soil, perhaps more) and completely swept it away.
All the trees and grasses on the side of the river bank did nothing to prevent that erosion, they all vanished downstream. Shortly after that flood, when I went exploring out that way to see what had happened (I was living nearby at the CSIRO Field Station at the time, now the Centre for Appropriate Technology) I observed trees and grasses teetering on the edge of that bank, with partial exposure of the roots dangling metres above the riverbed (again I took photographs). This stretch of the riverbank is the largest natural sudden change of the land I’ve seen occur anywhere in this region’s vicinity.
The point here is that when there is a major flow of the river, piles of sand and sediment held together by grasses will simply be swept away.
It’s also worth noting that the slope of the riverbed through town between the Charles Creek junction at Schwarz Crescent and Heavitree Gap to the south is a drop of 10 metres. Thus the impact of floodwaters backing up at Heavitree Gap itself has a minimal effect on the town further upstream.

Alex Nelson Also Commented

LETTER: Removing sand from the Todd makes no sense as a flood mitigation measure
Peter Driscoll’s comment highlights why so much inaction has occurred with flood mitigation and management of the Todd River through Alice Springs during the period of time almost equivalent to self-government of the NT. Essentially the NT Government’s attitude (under CLP rule) was that the single most effective measure to counter flooding of the Todd River would be the construction of a flood mitigation dam in the hills upstream of Alice Springs.
Two locations were proposed during the 1980s; the first was at the Old Telegraph Station, the second at Junction Waterhole further north. Both sites were strenuously resisted by Arrernte traditional owners concerned about the impact the dams would have on sacred sites.
Technically a “dry dam” for flood mitigation would be the most effective measure against large floods but this would require extensive re-negotiation with TO’s who undoubtedly remain wary in light of the bitter diviseness this matter has generated in the past. The project would stand a much better chance of success, I think, if any suggestion of permanent inundation for recreational purposes (as insisted upon by the NT Government in the past) is ruled out completely.
But that still leaves us with the need for dealing with localised flooding of the Todd River through town and for adequate management of it at all times.
Currently the Todd River, for most of its length in town, is at or below the natural bed level of the sand. This is evident (as Charlie Carter pointed out on ABC radio a few days ago) by observing the bases of old river gum trees which predate the existance of Alice Springs – many of them now sit well above the natural bed level of the river at the time of their germination with significant root exposure. River gums never grow naturally with their roots exposed. This is particularly evident just downstream of the Wills Terrace Causeway, which was extensively excavated just six years ago. This same stretch of the river is now slated as Stage 3 for the current sand-mining of the Todd River by the Alice Town Council, as stated by Greg Buxton on ABC radio!
There is also photographic evidence, too – the best example I know is a photo taken by Rev. John Flynn from the top of Meyers Hill in 1926 with a view towards what is now the CBD. The riverbed and west bank adjacent to the Civic Centre has not changed in almost 80 years.
Equally I know of a photo held at the Olive Pink Botanic Garden taken during the drought of the 1960s, which views Olive Pink’s flora reserve from across the Todd River. Again, the riverbed and bank adjacent to the OPBG has not changed.
In the 1950s my father regularly camped in the Todd River adjacent to May’s Guest House (now the Institute for Aboriginal Development on South Terrace), where the riverbank is quite high and steep. It was so in the 1950s and remains the same today, it hasn’t changed.
The only part of Charlie Carter’s letter I disagree with is where he states The Alice Springs Flood Plain Management Plan 1996 concluded that the Tuncks Road causeway has no effect on the bed level of the Todd River. That’s clearly not the case now, where there is an obvious drop in the river bed on the downstream side – so much so, that just a little further downstream it is easy to observe the concrete capping that marks the position of the Palm Valley gas pipeline for the old power station. This was constructed in 1983, and the concrete capping was buried beneath the sand level at that time. Now it is exposed.
Only the Schwarz Crescent causeway shows no impact on the Todd riverbed, yet that is where the Council has, and is, removing sand from the Todd!
Finally, the cause of sand and silt buildup in the Todd River through the town is regularly attributed to the presence of exotic grasses, especially buffel and couch. While these grasses are most undesirable from an environmental perspective, they clearly are not the main cause (if any) of the perceived buildup of sand and silt. These grasses dominate along many of the rivers and creeks in the Central Australian region yet nowhere else have they caused any major flow restrictions; for some reason, they only do so (according to many) within the confines of the town’s urban area.
Strangely, that’s the only stretch of the river where we have all these causeways, too.


LETTER: Removing sand from the Todd makes no sense as a flood mitigation measure
Dealing first with Hal Duell’s comments, the Taffy Pick Crossing (originally the Casino Causeway) was constructed in 1981, and opened in July that year simultaneously with the opening of the Federal Hotels Casino. Federal Hotels and the NT Government jointly funded the construction of the Casino Causeway.
Amongst the earliest critics of the new causeway was Taffy Pick in a letter published in the Centralian Advocate in early December 1982 – three months later the flood of March 1983 swamped the foyer of the casino and ripped out an 11 metre wide chunk of the causeway.
A study was undertaken from 1984 onwards by the NT Government for the construction of a full size bridge to replace the Casino Causeway; and in 1986 the NT Government announced a $5.7 million project for the reconstruction and re-alignment of roads at the north entrance of Heavitree Gap and South Terrace, including a large roundabout at the Gap, re-alignment of South Terrace, a new bridge downstream from (and replacing) the Casino Causeway, a roundabout on the east bank of the Todd linking Stephens Road and Barritt Drive with the bridge, and extension of Stephens Road to link with Sadadeen and Undoolya. Only the roundabout at Heavitree Gap has been built, and that was a separate project in 1994 that was part of the NT Government’s plans for the rejuvenation of Alice Springs (which in itself sounds awfully repetitive, doesnt’ it?).
The NT Government transferred responsibility for the Casino Causeway to the Alice Springs Town Council in early 1987. Following the flood of April 1988, the mayor Leslie Oldfield begged the NT Government to urgently replace the Casino Causeway with a properly constructed bridge.
The NT Government has long publicly recognised that the Casino Causeway exacerbates flooding of properties by the river for a distance of 400m upstream from the causeway but has never done anything to resolve this problem of its own making.
To my knowledge and recollection, there have been four major occasions in the past 30 years or so when sand has been removed from the Todd River within the urban area. The first was in the early 1980s but was suspended in 1982 following assessment by the NT Conservation Commission that showed that sand removal was having an adverse effect on the river gums.
The second was in August / September of 1988, when the Department of Transport and Works removed sand that had accumulated next to the Casino Causeway. This was only a few months after the flood that year and coincided with the Flynn by-election campaign, during which the effect on flooding by that causeway was a major concern of voters in that electorate. (The CLP polled last and Labor topped the poll on that occasion, the only time this has happened in an urban electorate of Alice Springs. The CLP’s preferences helped NT Nationals candidate Enzo Floreani to win).
The next major sand extraction that I recall was a decade ago, when the Alice Springs Town Council was granted $400,000 for the extraction of sand from Heavitree Gap to Taffy Pick Crossing, which also included extensive spraying of couch and buffel grass. This was a part of the NT Government’s Alice in 10 project; and this particular project was meant to be the first stage of cleaning up the river all the way to the top of town. It never progressed beyond that first stage; and (as predicted on the ABC by both my father and myself) this was a complete waste of money.
The last major sand extraction from the Todd River occurred in 2006, in a project funded by the Martin Labor Government. This involved an upgrading of the Wills Terrace Causeway and extraction of sand downstream along the CBD, which cost (from memory) $600,000.
So now we have yet another publicly funded program of removal of sand from the bed of the Todd River, based on utterly spurious documentation upon which the Alice Springs Town Council relies to justify the expenditure of public monies.


Recent Comments by Alex Nelson

Gunner goofs: No council ‘decisions’ on gallery site
@ Some Guy (Posted August 19, 2019 at 10:43 am): No, I don’t “feel like this golden opportunity of a project to secure the future of Central Australia both in an economic and cultural sense on the world stage is slowly slipping through the fingers” because it was an illusion in the first place.
This isn’t the first occasion that a big project has been held out for us in The Centre offering some kind of economic Nirvana; we were told exactly the same kind of thing with the casino 40 years ago, and again with the development of the Alice Springs Desert Park in the mid 1990s.
Both of these facilities may be attractions but have never come close to fulfilling the visions originally held out to us as major game changers for the Centre’s economy.
With all due respect, I cannot see how a “National Aboriginal Art Gallery” will prove to be any different in the long run.


Another great river tree goes up in flames
@ Bob Taylor (Posted August 14, 2019 at 8:38 am): In this case grass wasn’t the problem, Bob, as even hard up against the trunk of the tree I noticed that none of it was burnt.
What seems to have happened was that a campfire was lit under one of the old exposed support roots of the tree and it was from this source that the flames spread into the trunk.
The roots in turn have been exposed by erosion exacerbated by the lowering of the river bed over a decade ago for flood mitigation.
The lowering of the river bed has also enabled campers to conceal themselves better from view. Unless the river bed is physically patrolled, no-one else knows they are there.


Invasive buffel grass soon part of international focus
The caption for the photo: “Dense infestation buffalo grass in land near the Alice Springs airport” brings back some memories. During my years at school in the 1970s, invariably when I spoke about buffel grass everyone thought I meant buffalo grass, a common variety of garden lawn. [ED– the autocorrect of ‘buffalo’ for ‘buffel’ has now been corrected, thanks Alex.]
As my home was at AZRI and then the new CSIRO field station next door, I was completely familiar with buffel grass during the time when its systematic introduction for dust control (especially for the Alice Springs Airport) and improved pasture was fully underway.
However, this was still the time when buffel grass was not yet dominant in the landscape so most people were unfamiliar with it.


Nuke power way to zero emissions, or a solar shortcut?
@ Ted Egan (Posted August 3, 2019 at 2:50 pm): Hello Ted, if you go to this link https://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/2013/07/11/when-gas-turns-to-hot-air/ and check out the CLP’s full page election advertisement from 1980, it’s just possible to make out that one of the energy options the NT Government was touting was “an experimental wind power generator for the Barkly Tablelands”.
The CLP was also giving consideration for nuclear power at that time, too.
Ah yes, we’re right into recycling!


NT at the bottom of the barrel
Ironic, I suggest, that the gas INPEX is exporting from the Territory actually doesn’t come from here. I hasten to add my comment is just an observation of the current situation, not an argument one way or the other about potential gas reserves in the NT.


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