In a map from 1886, much of Elwood was designated as swamp, an inundated area where water from the Elster Creek drained before entering Port Phillip Bay. Although efforts at reclamation began in 1859, the area was only fully developed in the 1920’s, with canals constructed and reconstructed across the following decades to facilitate drainage.
Despite concerted engineering attempts, the area has remained vulnerable to inundation, with the flooding caused by severe weather events in 2011 leading to the establishment of the Elwood Floods Action Group (EFLAG).
To the members of EFLAG, this extreme weather event demonstrated a lack of preparedness on the part of government and other traditional service providers, undermining their ability to respond to the area’s risk factors in an effective manner. Subsequently, this group was intended as a mechanism to forge new and useful connections with stakeholders in a way that challenged the traditional top down pattern of engagement. The ultimate aim of this group was to make Elwood more resilient to extreme weather events through the precipitation of changes in practices across regimes.
In particular, EFLAG identified links between the previously unlinked practices of riverine management and catchment flooding which occurred as a result of urbanisation and increased urban runoff into the river catchment, with coastal flooding practices linked to king tides, and with stormwater management practices, including those for flash flooding.
An essential element of EFLAG is community engagement, encouraged through the holding of public meetings and leveraged to achieve their goals. EFLAG have adopted a forthright advocacy style that seeks to directly confront issues, ensuring a presence at all relevant meetings and forming partnerships with other concerned actors in an attempt to enable constructive dialogue between “the many-headed hydra”: members of the community and decision makers, including Melbourne Water, the State Emergency Service, City of Port Phillip, the River Basin Management Society and so on. In this way, previously isolated actors have been brought into association with each other in order to create more effective cross-jurisdiction, multi-tiered government approaches to flood risk management, whilst ensuring the voice of the community remains heard. Vertically connecting the Elwood community into the urban water management landscape, these new connections and collaborations have enabled institutional change, the uptake of innovative practices by local authorities and a community with greater awareness and capacity to adapt to increased flood risks in a period of climate change.
Among the changes that EFLAG has contributed to, an interviewee highlighted increases in local spending on drainage, changes to stormwater management practices, the utilisation of rain gardens for flood mitigation, the implementation of a monitoring system in the Elwood Canal that allows early warnings to be sent when water reaches a specific level as well as ongoing consultation on policy and practices with a number of government and private entities. EFLAG has developed a plan for maximising water retention in the catchment and recycling, which is now utilised by Melbourne Water and local authorities. They have also developed suggestions for cleaning Elwood Canal and restoring Elster Creek to facilitate stormwater to flow more freely, for duplicating a key drain and constructing a retardation basin.
This group relies on the dedication and expertise of their members and the readers of their newsletter to foment change, while operating on a budget comprised primarily of donations.
While there have been positive changes to vertical connections between regimes and the broader landscape that exist as a result of EFLAG’s work, an interviewee noted that progress is slow as old practices and power structures are difficult to shift. However, EFLAG have treated it as an opportunity to encourage more productive horizontal relationships, particularly between the four proximate local governments. They regard Melbourne Water now convening catchment authorities with a range of representatives to discuss cross-jurisdiction catchments as a major success.
If you know the organisation structure and develop relationships with people that’s how you get stuff done.
Putting EFLAG into the Connections diagram, shows that there have been some changes to the broader socio-technical landscape of flood management practices which now consider inter-jurisdictional issues. EFLAG’s suggestions for lots to have individual water tanks and so on are novel contributions or ‘niches’. Most innovation has occurred at the regime level where points of intersection have been identified and connections made between several practices and regimes.