The 2011 Brisbane floods: causes, impacts and implications

Robin C. van den Honert, John McAneney

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On 13th January 2011 major flooding occurred throughout most of the Brisbane River catchment, most severely in Toowoomba and the Lockyer Creek catchment (where 23 people drowned), the Bremer River catchment and in Brisbane, the state capital of Queensland. Some 56,200 claims have been received by insurers with payouts totalling $2.55 billion. This paper backgrounds weather and climatic factors implicated in the flooding and the historical flood experience of Brisbane. We examine the time history of water releases from the Wivenhoe dam, which have been accused of aggravating damage downstream. The dam was built in response to even worse flooding in 1974 and now serves as Brisbane’s main water supply. In our analysis, the dam operators made sub-optimal decisions by neglecting forecasts of further rainfall and assuming a ‘no rainfall’ scenario. Questions have also been raised about the availability of insurance cover for riverine flood, and the Queensland government’s decision not to insure its infrastructure. These and other questions have led to Federal and State government inquiries. We argue that insurance is a form of risk transfer for the residual risk following risk management efforts and cannot in itself be a solution for poor land-use planning. With this in mind, we discuss the need for risk-related insurance premiums to encourage flood risk mitigating behaviours by all actors, and for transparency in the availability of flood maps. Examples of good flood risk management to arise from this flood are described.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1149-1173
Number of pages25
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Bibliographical note

Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please check publisher website


  • flood
  • Brisbane River
  • January 2011
  • water release strategy
  • flood risk management
  • insurance
  • land use planning


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