LETTER: Should we dam the Todd?


Sir – I would like to contribute to the issue of damming the Todd River. Something has to be done about flood mitigation. Burying your head in the sand will not make it go away. We live in a climate of extremes and some of our older residents will remember the terrible Easter flood in 1988 with massive property damage.
Most of your readers expressed the opinion that there seems little interest in having a recreational lake north of Alice Springs. With our evaporation rate ten times greater than our rainfall it makes sense not to create a permanent lake. Most of the rivers in Central Australia are known as dry rivers.
What I would like readers to consider is the construction of a flood levy on the Todd River north of Alice Springs at a place know as Atnyere Arrkelthe (Junction Waterhole pictured).
In January 1990 the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) issued a work certificate to build this levy but it was withdrawn when construction plans were amended to make this a permanent lake. I believe AAPA would reconsider the idea of a levy at this location.
Let’s get serious about flood mitigation. I live on South Terrace and according to Council flood plans my property will be affected every 20 years. Let’s have this levy and not a dam. That makes sense.
Ted Skahill
Alice Springs


  1. Of course Alice Springs is liable to flood from time to time. The town is built on a flood plain alongside a river course even though it is (mostly) a dry river bed. Those trees in the river and throughout the town are known as RIVER RED GUMS. The only way out for flood waters is through the gap which has been partially restricted by a highway and a rail track. So maybe the problem is not the river, and its propensity to sometimes flood, but the siting of the town.

  2. While a flood mitigation dam is, to me at least, clearly a good idea, wouldn’t it cost less to remove the obstruction that is the Taffy Pick crossing? And to dig out some of the sand islands that have appeared since Alice Springs was first built?
    The choice of a usually dry river bank for a future town can now be seen to have been short-sighted, but is there any suggestion we move it? Or that we blast the Gap wider? Of course not.
    We live where we live, so let the river run when it runs. How hard is that?

  3. Maybe when that 20 year moratorium was put in place it was hoped that 20 years on people would be wiser and smarter and they wouldn’t raise the whole ugly issue again. What happened 20 years ago was cynical, divisive and underhand. There are many more sensible and responsible options for flood mitigation than a dam or levy. I think it starts with looking at the natural drainage systems of the town and working with them, clearing out build ups and blockages as Hal says and using the drainage potential of floodplains such as Coolibah swamp instead of fighting against it.

  4. Hi Hal, many thanks for your comment.
    What the town needs to decide is whether or not it wants protection from a so-called one-in-100-year flood (Q100). It would cause major loss of life and catastrophic damage to the town. A flood of such magnitude may now occur more often because of climate change.
    There is a solution readily available that is well short of moving the town or blasting the Gap, and that has been exhaustively documented in the Alice News (please google this site).
    That solution is a dam at Welatja Therre (Junction Waterhole), upstream from the Telegraph Station.
    There are a number of other flood mitigation measures but none are adequate protection from a Q100. These are also discussed in government documents referred to in reports on this site.
    I covered 20 years ago the inept handling of the dam issue by Minister Ortmann in Darwin, the decision made in Canberra by Minister Tickner, and a raft of opinions and arguments about the project.
    The principal options were a “dry” dam (no permanent lake), which would save the town and was not opposed by some Aboriginal custodians.
    The second one was a lake, more broadly opposed by custodians, and not necessary for the town’s safety. Many locals regarded a lake as a desirable amenity.
    While the likelihood of lives and property being lost is apparently increasing, discussion about damming the Todd will of course continue.
    Erwin Chlanda, Editor, Alice Springs News Online.

  5. @Erwin
    I fully support your comments about Alice’s need for a flood-mitigation dam. A Q100 flood is no longer a distant possibility, as recent weather events both in Australia and overseas show.
    But not a lake or permanent dam – I don’t think that is a good idea at all. Unless, of course, climate change turns us into a much wetter place. Then, perhaps, an argument could be made here for a permanent body of water.
    But while we wait for money and process, I still think removing the Taffy Pick crossing and the sand islands would help allow any flood waters to flow.
    Political will and funding – unfortunately there may be more wet feet coming our way before either is found.

  6. We already have several dams in the Todd – one at Schwartz Crescent, one on Undoolya Rd, Taffy Pick crossing, and immediately south of the Gap. Next time you drive across a causeway have a look at the levels of the river bed on either side of the road. I reckon if we lowered the causeways to the level of the riverbed on the south side, the river would push that sand out through the Gap and deepen the river naturally. A deeper river bed has got to be good for flood mitigation. Seems simple to me.


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