Herbert's mangrove mayhem

Upper Herbert flooding is getting worse for cane growers

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The livelihood of cane growers in the Lower Herbert is taking a hit with floodwater unable to escape due to drainage maintenance issues.

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CLOGGED: Workers attempt to clear vegetation around drains at Lagoon Creek by hand this week, following extensive flooding in the Lower Herbert.

CLOGGED: Workers attempt to clear vegetation around drains at Lagoon Creek by hand this week, following extensive flooding in the Lower Herbert.

THE livelihood of cane growers in the Lower Herbert is taking a hit with floodwater unable to escape due to drainage maintenance issues.

Growers say while flooding in the district was common every wet season, water was taking longer to run off, leaving young cane inundated for days.

Hinchinbrook Mayor Ramon Jayo, who has a 300 hectare cane farm at Macknade, said drains in the Lower Herbert which allow floodwater to escape had not been cleared of debris due to stringent regulations in place to protect mangroves.

He said the problem was exacerbated after improvements were made to paddocks on the Upper Herbert, which meant water rushed down at a faster rate and backed up for longer.

Cr Jayo said problems had started to occur after debris was not cleared in the wake of Cyclone Yasi.

"It's holding water back from going out to sea unimpeded, it takes longer to dissipate and results in crop losses starting to occur," Cr Jayo said.

He said growers were not seeking to construct more drains, but merely cleanse the existing drains that had been there since the 1950s.

"We are suggesting we should be allowed in there to cleanse those drains so we can improve water discharge rates and reduce the length of time the flooding takes to dissipate."

Debris blocking Lagoon Creek.

Debris blocking Lagoon Creek.

Cr Jayo said the Lower Herbert Water Board had a permit to clear drains by hand, but was seeking an amendment to allow the mechanical cleaning of five nominated drains.

"The board already has a permit that allows them to trim mangroves above drainage lines by hand, but that's an impossible task to undertake by hand, when you consider the risks of being in that environment.

"We're supporting the Lower Herbert Water Board in seeking the state government amendment to allow the mechanical cleansing of the water ways.

"All we're seeking is to change the current permit from hand to mechanical means."

Cr Jayo said they were seeking to trim mangroves in an area of about three to four hectares, out of more than 12,500ha of mangroves in the region.

Herbert River Canegrowers chair Michael Pisano, who farms at Braemeadows, said the problem was exacerbated over the years.

"We were able to do a bit of work in some of our creeks, Lagoon Creek was all done by hand with saws to cut the low hanging branches to form a cathedral effect, a dome of vegetation across the creek, so when the water rises in flood debris doesn't get tangled in low hanging branches," Mr Pisano said.

"Over the years it's been harder and harder to get people to do it by hand, with crocodiles it's a dangerous job and very time consuming.

"We can't get the machinery in there because of environmental restrictions, it makes it very difficult."

A Department of Agriculture and Fisheries spokeswoman said the Lower Herbert Water Management Authority currently has permits that allow careful marine plant management in Mandam waterway, Perry's drain, Lagoon Creek, Loder Creek and Ti-Tree Creek.

"Permits are in place to allow works to manage marine plants in certain waterways as many times as required," she said.

She said an application was made "for a new resource allocation authority to interfere with a declared Fish Habitat Area" on September 25, and authorities were waiting for a response after requesting further information.

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