Stream tales

Midsummer blues (or browns)

Since October last year I have been concerned about the new dams built upstream from us in Grimwade Road, Balingup. It was apparent that there were changes to the way the stream flowed as it left the property on which the dams were built and made its way to the properties below, including mine which I call Montaza.

The rate of flow in the watercourse at my place was considerably less than in previous years at the same time of year and there was a lower response to the smaller rainfall events probably because the dam water levels would need to reach a certain height before the water spilled over.

I decided to document the changes with that useful tool, the iPhone. The resolution is better than the digital camera I bought several years ago and the images transfer automatically to my computer.  Easy!

Here are a couple of sample records of the health of the watercourse in January this year, 2018.

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This image taken on 10 January 2018 shows part of the lower pond at my place, Montaza. It’s of a bay in the stream not quite on the main channel. Here the water has become stagnant because of the very low rate of flow. Leaves are almost stationary on the surface, scum has formed and bubbles suggesting lack of oxygen are on the surface. It looks very  off-putting. This is unprecedented since I bought the property in 2006.

The video of the lower pond was taken on the same day and shows just how unattractive the stream had become with its stagnant, slow moving current that allows debris to build up. A faster rate of flow would improve oxygenation and carry away surface material.

Over the entire warmer weather months we experienced the side-effects of the lower rates of flow, ie scum build up, high sediment levels and other forms of pollution.

Heavy rain brought some relief. There were several occasions when water was released suddenly because heavy rain was forecast and there were possibly concerns about the dam walls breaching. Some of this water may have been from the bottom of the dams which would be low in oxygen with rotting vegetation.

In the early hours of 25 May we received heavy rain and with the cooler weather the rate of flow increased. Cooler water temperatures also meant that algal blooms were reduced and the clarity of the water improved. Will there be an improvement in water conditions by next October when the warmer conditions return? We don’t know.

Most of the powers-that-be seem unable or unwilling to assist. Shire, state government agencies, politicians and other bodies have all been approached, but we’re still short of a solution.

All in all an unsatisfactory situation especially as there seems to be no way of achieving a round-table discussion with all parties, nor having anything like a management plan in place between us downstream landowners and the owners of the dams property.

Footnote: The banner photo at top is of the stream at Montaza taken in July 2006. I call the area near the handrail and steps up the hill The Knoll. Rhododendrons are now planted there. It had been very cold that year and some plants were damaged by frost. The steps are still in place and the handrail is about to be restored. Although we had very late rains that year, the stream was still flowing, clear and healthy.

House for sale – location, location

Retro-styled house in town with views.

The house is for sale from Ray White in Balingup, 9764 1139 or 0429 976 412.

Ray White Balingup

The price is $375,000. The house has been fully renovated to high quality standards. It was intended that it be the eventual home for the owners, but who have now decided not to move from their current property, a little out of town.

The house is ready to move into. There is scope for a wing, perhaps a pavilion, to be added.

The location is excellent. A place in the country but with up to date amenities, walking distance of the coffee shops, a quiet spot and magnificent views to the hills.

North-facing it is sited to be sheltered from the cold, winter winds from the south east and to make the most of the winter sun.

It is handy to the South Western Highway which from here is a two and a half hour drive to Perth.

It has two bedrooms and a compact ‘den’ that could be an office or study. There is a garage and the opportunity and space to build an additional garage or shed.

The house has a new roof, gutters, exterior walls with insulation, new bathroom and laundry wing, polished jarrah boards, new lights, painted throughout.  Fine furniture maker of Bridgetown, Glen Holst, has made the benches for the kitchen, laundry and bathroom.

Extensive outside hard landscaping with back courtyard created and a terraced back area west of the house. New septic tanks and long leach drains that look as though they could service a small hotel. New air conditioning and wood heater in lounge plus a Metters stove in the kitchen, and a new gas stove and dish washer.

All on a block of 2431sqm i.e. over half an acre in the old language. The block goes down a slope to the winter creek that enters the Balingup Brook.

There is excellent Mobile coverage as the tower is in sight about 1.5 km away. NBN can be readily connected via Fixed Wireless Broadband which would receive signals from the same tower.

Here is the house in the context of its surroundings.

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The house at 8 Roberts Street in Balingup was originally built for the Town Clerk of the Balingup Roads Board in the mid-20th Century. It is of fibro-timber construction with high ceilings and jarrah floors.

The town centre with its coffee shops is only some 200m away. The Balingup General Store is literally around the corner. Whilst the South Western Highway is only about 100m away, the house is well screened from view and the sound of traffic is muted.

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A large Mediterranean Oak on the verge provides summer shade to the back courtyard in the morning. The tree loses its leaves in winter.

 

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St Peter’s is a charming old church that is still being used by a small congregation. In the foreground is a Western Power pillar. Power was put underground from across the road a few years ago.

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Here are the front steps up to the veranda which has jarrah floorboards. It has magnificent views to the countryside. The veranda is well-positioned to catch the winter sun.

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From the front there is another path to the back courtyard.

Here are scenes from the interior of the house: the lounge, bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom.

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The bathroom and laundry are new having been built as a new wing. The heat exchange type of HWS is shown here next to the bathroom. There are two toilets, one in the bathroom and another separate one off the laundry.

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The veranda has views to the Park and to the north and west.

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From the veranda looking to the north.

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North of the house and down the hill is the Balingup Town Hall. There are sweeping views from the house to the hills north and west of the town. Note the mobile tower toward the top left on the horizon.

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From the front lawn looking west taken in late May 2018 with a pear tree in full autumn colour. Behind the small sheds there is a 23,000l tank set up to collect rainwater and provide water for a reticulation system. A controller and solenoids are in place. There is power to the pump at the tank which also has a standpipe for firefighting purposes. The sheds have seen better days but handy for storing wood or could be replaced with something more substantial.

A dam story in pictures

(Two dams in actuality)

On a 4.4Ha block alongside a country road this wetland and watercourse was changed to construct two dams.

There is a certain amount of consternation from downstream residents as to the effects that these dams may have on the watercourse that used to flow freely through the block. It has now been dammed across with water now being released from the dams to be fed downstream through this culvert pipe.

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The main culvert pipe (outside the property with the dams) that delivers most of the water into the watercourse that runs through residents’ properties downstream.

The series of images following were taken from outside the property about this time last year or a little later as the dams were being constructed. The first sequence was taken from the road adjoining the property to the east and then went onto a private road thus semi-circling the property.

The second sequence was taken the next morning from slightly different vantage points.

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Here are the first ten images taken from along the main road.

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This second sequence starts from the road (first two images of this group) and then the images are taken from a private roadway.

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These eight images are the last taken on the first day. This one shows the donga opposite a Rural Residential area with new houses.

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These two images are the start of a group of photos taken the next day. The first is taken from a sealed road from an adjoining property showing its dam built many years back.  The second shows the main road (note the power lines) across to the hills looking approximately east.

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These photos show more of the northern end of the property looking from the western side. There is a dam wall visible in the centre of the image to the left, probably it is the upper dam wall.

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The crepe myrtle in full flower on an adjoining property indicates the pictures were taken around a year ago, i.e. in mid-late February or March. The water shown near the blackboys is likely to be from an upstream neighbour. The final photo in this series looks across a dam in the neighbour’s property which is to the west of the property of interest.

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This aerial photo was taken on 19 February 2017 which is around the time that the ground photos were taken, probably prior because there is little sign of dam walls. There appear to be two pieces of yellow earth-moving equipment near top. The block is triangular with the long side parallel to the road.

All in all there have been dramatic changes made to this piece of land that was once a wetland with a stream flowing through.

Raffle with a Mitigation Theme

The Balingup Bushfire Brigade, Mitigation Group, held a raffle outside the General Store yesterday, i.e. Saturday morning, 16 December 2017.

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The sign we made for the raffle which we placed nearby..

Many local people come to the store to buy the weekend papers and get petrol so it is a busy spot on Saturday mornings.

 

The prize included three low flammability trees, fire extinguisher for car, fire blanket, mop and steel bucket for putting out embers and gardening tools for pruning and/or removal of excess vegetation.

As soon as we mentioned the raffle was to raise funds for the local Bushfire Brigade, we got a very friendly response.

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Sue helped sell tickets and some of the prizes on show. A big thank you to Bell Fire of Bunbury who donated the fire blanket and the extinguisher. They can be called on 9725 6100.

Thus we had a mitigation theme which gave us a chance to explain to people how the items would help reduce risk from fire. It was a way of meeting people in an informal context and talking about a topical issue, with the bushfire season here.

It was $2 a ticket and some kind souls donated extra. In all we raised $265.40.

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Drawing of the winning ticket by one of the store owners with John who helped organise the raffle

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Roy, the winner who lives just around the corner, with his prize. He was delighted.

 

 

What’s in a name?

An accurate title can help comprehension

In the US in the past few years it has been realised that towns, settlements, outer suburbs  and other areas in which people live that are close to bush, are likely to have close encounters with bushfires.

In the SW of Western Australia with our hot, dry summers we, too, will experience bushfires. They come with the territory.

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This fire in 2013 burnt out an historic homestead and a timber bridge across the Blackwood River. The bridge cost $4 million to replace, the homestead may not be rebuilt. The fire was only 8 km away from us in Balingup when this photo was taken.

Currently much of the effort and considerable cost goes into the fighting of the fire and the recovery afterwards.

Thus we talk often of firefighters and not so much of fire managers or fire controllers who could be carrying out planned burns rather than fighting unplanned bushfires.

There are, encouragingly, moves toward greater concentration on and resources applied to preemptive actions to reduce fuel loads both on public and private lands. This is commonly described as carrying out bushfire mitigation.

If fuel loads are reduced, i.e. by decreasing the amount of overgrown vegetation and litter around towns and on properties, there is less to burn and a lower chance that the fire will become so fierce that it causes mass destruction.

Up till recently we’ve heard much about firefighters and brigades, but there is little attention on homeowners and how they can be brought on board to do more for themselves.

Much of the problem of bushfires lies with their being located near people, their homes, towns and other infrastructure. This has been an ongoing problem developing over the past thirty years or so when the idea of having a place in the country, a tree change, or simply cheaper accommodation on the outer edges of the metropolitan area has gained momentum.

The problem of fires occurring near people points to where the solution lies. It is imperative that the various landowners, residents and businesses (including agricultural ones) be part of the solution. They have the most to lose if a bushfire breaks out and the most to gain, in the form of increased safety, if they are active upfront to take steps to reduce the risk.

Each householder or business owner/farmer can be involved and can help reduce the volume and mass of vegetation, i.e. remove fuel and cut bushfire risk not only on their own property but they can coordinate with their neighbours as well.

Fundamentally they need to be seen as the key stakeholders and intrinsically involved in the deliberations as to how better, we as a society, can improve our management of bushfires. We need to move from recognising and mopping up disasters to being aware of disaster risk and acting to reduce those risks.

Over the past year there has been several officers working for groups of rural and semi-rural Shires in compiling Bushfire Risk Management Plans or BRMPs. To all intents and purposes this process has been conducted in secret.

Properties and various parcels of land that have been identified as being in Bushfire Prone Areas (BPAs) have been examined more closely using high definition satellite images and other sources. The results are entered into an application to aid correlation and to standardise the results. A check is made with the Office of Bushfire Risk Management (OBRM) which can suggest changes or improvements. Once the Plans conform to the requisite standard a report is prepared for the Shire concerned and presented to the Council.

Once accepted this report becomes a public document, but from what I can understand, the details of individual properties are not being released. Apparently a Freedom of Information request may mean that an owner can discover more details about the bushfire risk on his or her property.

The National Fire Protection Association of the US has developed its Firewise USA program to facilitate the development of aware and active residents in fire-prone areas all over the US. Its byline is “Residents reducing wildfire risks”.

To cater for the wider landscape as well as at the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) the Americans have developed Fire Adapted Communities. It has Firewise USA as one of its components as well as supporting mitigation activities such as prescribed burning. Federal and State governments are contributors as are insurance companies.

We can use aspects of these American programs to influence how we make ourselves safer from bushfires here in Western Australia and possible Australia-wide.

We could set up a similar organisation called Bushfire Adapted Communities, or more descriptively, Bushfire Risk Reduced Communities. These names seem a little clumsy.

A better way to describe the organisation might be to call it Firewise Western Australia with the subtitle: “Residents reducing bushfire risks”.

Whatever we do, we need to apply hard-headed practicalities to the problem. Only residents are in the position to do something about their own property. A professionally designed program delivered with the similar skills and expertise that the Water Corporation brings to its Waterwise program could bring about positive action to reduce bushfire risk on homeowner’s properties.

With a carefully crafted initiative the onus can be put on to homeowners to make their properties at lower risk. Government, once the program was implemented could save on costs and the users or customers would not have the heartache and disruption of losing their home to bushfire.

The Yarloop Primary School survived

It was no accident that the school survived

The Report into the Special Inquiry into the January 2016 Waroona Fire made mention several times that work had been done in the months before the Fire to reduce the fuel loads in and around the school buildings.

See Post of October 30, 2016:
https://firewisewa.me/2016/10/30/why-did-the-yarloop-school-survive/

Whilst the Report provided some information I wanted to know more of the details of the work done on the school and its grounds so contacted Phil Penny who was the Chief Fire Control Officer for the Harvey Shire. Mr Penny was also on the School P and C.

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In the front area of the school grounds two months after the fire. Note that large fig (possibly a Moreton Bay) is relatively unscathed whereas the trees in the background are burnt. To the west of the school (toward the left of the image), several houses in School Road were destroyed, yet apart from one or two small sheds in the school grounds the buildings were intact.

Mr Penny sent me the details of the works to be done on the school. It was a straightforward document with photos of the areas that needed to have fuel reduced with descriptions of the actions to be taken. Here is the Bushfire Risk Inspection for Yarloop PS.

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It’s worth a read as an example of the types of work that needs to be done, eg removing truckloads of debris made up of litter, fallen branches, dry grass, etc from certain areas.

Here is a quote from Mr Penny about this work to make the school safer:

“This is the original document I did up for Yarloop Primary School. Simple yet proved to be very effective. Work was carried out over about two months prior to the Bush Fire season and as we know the school survived. It just goes to show that the simplest of actions can be very effective in reducing risk and enhancing survival.Let me know what you think.”

I asked Phil the burning question (sorry) of “how much did it cost?”

Here is his reply:

“In the case of the school the cost ended up around $6000 which seems expensive but considering that they carted away a huge amount of fuel and mulch like material and tree loppers were utilised to trim trees it was an inexpensive investment in longevity for the school. Also all of this work was carried out by contractors to the school and the cost was afforded by Building Management and Works (BMW ) who look after maintenance for Government Infrastructure.
The ongoing maintenance is looked after by the School Gardner as part of normal duties ( except for any tree lopping ) and therefore ongoing costs are minimised.
For the average home owner most of this could be done by themselves and if need be burnt onsite at right time of year and therefore cost is minimal. Most people think that they have clear everyting to make it safe and I have proven this is not the case. They just need some direction which I provide.”

So you there you have it, for a small sum of $6000, the school was made to be at much lower risk from bushfire attack.

It is worth noting, too, that the school was undefended as the fire swept through. Thus it had been made to be self-defensible. Indeed it came through so well that it became the on-site location for the management of the clean-up effort, the Recovery process.

Would the outcome have been any different if, say, similar plans had been drawn up for the community centre, the Railway Workshops, the fire station and groups of houses?

If something of the order of  $100,000 had been spent on Yarloop in the months before the fire, the result may have been very different. Two men may not have lost their lives. 160 houses may not have been destroyed. At least $60 million dollars has been spent in the clean up.

What price safety? Instead of so much emphasis on response and recovery a program that assessed the small towns of the South West and spent a $100,000 on, say 10 towns each year, could bring huge savings.

It’s not just the money, of course. Democratic governments in civilised countries have a duty to keep their people safe. Australian citizens should not have to go through the terror of a fire like the Waroona Fire nor come back to the horror of their house and sheds burnt to the ground, their pets killed, their farm animals injured and dying.

We can do better. The bushfire risk reduction process carried out on the Yarloop Primary School is a shining example of the benefits and the sheer cost-effectiveness of these steps.

Let’s look at implementing these pre-emptive actions throughout the Perth Hills and the South West.

Changing times, changing gardens?

The following was written in November 2011 for a newsletter published by a local landholder group, the year we had the Kelmscott Roleystone Bushfire. An inquiry was conducted by former AFP head, Mick Keelty, to investigate the causes and what could be done in the future. The event alluded to is the Festival of Country Gardens.

It would appear that although since 2011 we have had several more major bushfires and several reviews we may not have advanced all that much.

See what you think. Are gardeners any more aware of how they can make their gardens fire-safe?

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Beyonderup Garden on the Balingup Nannup Road that overlooks the Blackwood River has opened for the Festival of Country Gardens.

Since 1999 Blackwood Country Gardens has staged Festivals in spring, and in most years autumn, that have as their principal feature the opening of a representative sample of gardens located in and around the central South West region.  This area is known for its lengthy horticultural history with orchards dating from the 1860s in Bridgetown and Balingup.  The purpose is to show garden visitors what it is to have a garden in the country in this region of the South West, to build more understanding between city and country dwellers, to educate gardeners and to encourage people from that great place called “Elsewhere” to stay for several days in our region to boost the tourism industry.

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Ruins of historic Southampton Homestead, destroyed by fire in February 2013.

For some years now gardeners, orchardists and farmers – who all share in varying degrees the activity of growing plants – have had to contend with lower rainfall, reduced runoff into dams and streams and the consequent restrictions or constraints on water use.  Coupled with the prominence of destructive bushfires, especially to housing stock in fire-prone areas, there has been pressures placed on what and how plants can be grown.  The reduced rainfall has produced measures to conserve water and the pervading message has been to grow “waterwise” plants.

Currently there is not an equivalent marketing of the concept of building “firewise” gardens, though there is certainly much instruction about the “building protection zone”, ie a 20 metre circle of safety around the house.  This circle of safety is to be cleared of all inflammable material, shrubs and small trees are to be removed under and between larger trees and larger trees are to be pruned up by 2 m to stop a ground fire from spreading into the canopy of the tree.  These instructions seem to be predicated on the assumption that most of the trees and shrubs in the garden close to the house will be flammable.  

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A Balingup garden with deciduous trees not far from the house, providing shade in summer and colour in Autumn whilst not adding to the fire hazard.

In research carried out in our area, especially after the fires in Bridgetown and Balingup in summer of 2009, there is evidence of the important part that less inflammable trees and shrubs can play in gardens, in particular, the role that deciduous trees, such as oaks, liquidambers or stone fruit trees, have in shielding the house from radiant heat and blocking embers from reaching the house.  Andrew Thamo and Christine Sharp from the Small Tree Farm in Balingup have produced relevant papers on Planting Trees for Living Firebreaks and Case Studies based on local fires which are available from their website – Small Tree Farm. See this article also Take the Eucalypt out of the Incendiary Debate

The featured image at the top shows two types of deciduous trees. On the left is a quince tree with some fruit showing and the colourful, yellow-leaved trees are Lombardy Poplars. Both species will scorch and ultimately burn if exposed to flames for long enough, but will not act as accelerants and feed the fire – unlike the eucalypt in the photo below.

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The long peeling bark of the Flooded Gum, Eucalyptus rudens, common in gullies throughout the South West, makes great embers and adds to the fire hazard.

Gardening, as with many other human activities, has fashions and fads, styles and gurus which with hindsight may seem a little foolish or at odds with the evidence as to what really is safe or not so safe. There is much to be said for rethinking the way we plan and plant our gardens taking into account the need for being economical with water and yet safer from bushfires.  These two factors need not be mutually exclusive.  There is plenty of scope for developing interesting landscape solutions for our gardens that takes into account our changing world.