The popular misconception about sand being taken out of the Todd River is that this is done as a flood mitigation measure, deepening the channel to allow a greater volume of water to flow within the banks. In truth, it would take major works to achieve this, including the removal of causeways and the re-location or re-laying of services that are under the river.
The works that are undertaken are better described as "channel improvement" to prevent channel migration and bank scouring.
The Town Council's Director of Technical Services, Greg Buxton explains that this is done "to ensure the river doesn't change course and endanger the properties close to the existing river banks."
However, works at Heavitree Gap are seen as a priority and would contribute to reducing the threat of flooding. "Silt, fines and sand" deposited at the gap by flows have "grassed up" with couch and kikuya, matted into a solid mound (pictured) that now stands well above the Bloomfield drainage line. These conditions could lead to the river breaking its banks in a Q20, let alone a Q100.
Extensive works removing sand and weeds were done to address this very same problem at the start of the decade, so why hasn't there been regular maintenance? KIERAN FINNANE reports.
We sounded a false note of optimism last week when the Alice Springs News Online reported that the Town Council had got the message about tree protection in the Todd and Charles Rivers. Work by trusties from the gaol, observed by readers knocking down buffel grass in the Todd, was no more than usual, occurring "most Thursdays" according to council's Director of Technical Services, Greg Buxton.
We would be wrong to think that the elected members are particularly stirred by the evidence of destruction of trees in the Todd and the persistence of the conditions that threaten them. With the exception of a brief comment by Alderman Jane Clark, no-one spoke of the trees at council's meeting last night. That there was discussion at all about the state of river came down to concern about flooding. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Pictured: Trees ablaze in the Todd, opposite the Crowne Plaza hotel, on November 8, 2011. Alice News reader Dy Kelaart took this shot, commenting: "Fire crews were in attendace as bystanders with the many obsevers watching in disbelief as fire engulfed the beautiful old river gums. An amazing spectical, shame about the majestic trees!" Senior Station Fire Officer in Alice Springs, John Kleeman, says fire crews would definitely have tried to put out the fires as "this is our job". The Alice News visited the site yesterday. Many of the trees in the mid-channel island have survived, although one (at right) has been utterly destroyed. Meanwhile, the buffel grass all around is greening up. If unchecked, by spraying or slashing, when it dries out it will again create the tinderbox conditions that fed this fire.
Senior Station Fire Officer in Alice Springs, John Kleeman, says he would welcome the assistance of prisoners in reducing the fire fuel load south of the Gap, as is being pushed for by the Town Council.
Aldermen passed a motion last night to write to the Department of Lands and Planning "regarding engagement of Correctional Services" to help with this task "south of Heavitree Gap to the Municipal Boundary, incorporating the river and parklands".
Mr Kleeman says the fire service has been doing control burns in the area – including around Amoonguna "where a lot of people have been throwing matches" – and are continuing to do so today, as well as north of Emily Gap.
He says government contractors have also done a major slashing job along the river from John Blakeman Bridge to Colonel Rose Drive. The "trusties" (prisoners) could help to do more slashing, especially in areas where it's hard to get front-end loaders in to clear firebreaks.
While with slashing the fuel remains on the ground, having the grasses lie flat reduces the intensity of a fire that may go through.
Mr Kleeman says the town has been lucky so far to not lose property or life, but the situation could go "pear-shaped" at any time. He encourages the public to prepare their properties and report to police anyone acting suspiciously with fire. KIERAN FINNANE reports.