More than 246 properties evacuated, 97 flood rescues, 181 families stranded on inland islands, and tens of millions of dollars in losses to local businesses throughout central NSW.
That is the human, emotional and economic toll of a flood that was in some ways, man-made.
This week the Lachlan River, which runs for more than 1000 kilometres down the spine of NSW, peaked at 10.67 metres, reaching its highest level in at least 25 years, with devastating consequences for hundreds of farming families spread throughout the central west, local tourism and the many businesses which surround them.
This was no flash flood, where rain water unleashes torrents of water suddenly upon unsuspecting communities. It was a flood that was calculated and controlled by the water management arm of the NSW government when it knew Wyangala dam would breach its capacity and hit 100.2 per cent.
Both the government and farmers had hoped that the water it had saved for months would be used for irrigation, but record September rain put an end to that. They had to open the floodgates.
The decision flooded properties from Wyalong to Forbes. No amount of warning could stop the damage unleashed by 35,000 mega litres being pumped through the saturated landscape.
NSW Premier Mike Baird said the government would “analyse everything” over how the flood release was handled this week as Water NSW CEO David Harris defended the authorities actions.
“Only a fortnight ago, Water NSW operated Wyangala to store all inflows until the downstream river peak had passed – meaning flood levels at both Cowra and Forbes were much less than would otherwise have been experienced,” said Mr Harris.
Many farmers and local businesses who spoke to Fairfax Media had nothing but praise for the water management, despite losses running into the tens of millions of dollars, they also believe it could have been much worse.
Farmer Neil Mattiske estimates he lost more than $500,000 this week, with sections of his vibrant yellow canola fields, or “black gold” as he likes to call it, being drowned just as the heads of their buds started to hang with the heaviness of their flowers.
“It was going to be a bumper of a crop, we put more fertiliser and more fertiliser and then all of a sudden it all goes to shit,” he said, pulling at a sopping canola stem.
A farming family of four with a pet kangaroo, the Mattiske’s have been slowly recovering from a decade of drought like many families in the area.
“It was like a massive drought then a massive wetness,” said Mr Mattiske.
His daughter, Joanne Stephenson, is in charge of the 4000 sheep at the property. The flood has meant she might not be able to get out to spray them all before they are savagely attacked by flies.
“They end up getting blood poisoning, they could be dead within a week,” she said.
With losses already estimated at more than half-a-million dollars, the Mattiske’s are bracing for a rough year. Like many others in the town the real pinch looks set to hit in July when their budgets run tight. But they aren’t letting themselves get upset about it.
“You could get this, you could get that, you could get sick, you could go to the rugby and get run over,” said Mr Mattiske. “You just have to get on with it.”
Despite the heavy hit to their income, they don’t lay the blame on the management of the dam.
“They’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t” said Mrs Mattiske, excusing herself for the pun.
Flood veteran and local State Emergency Service controller, Roc Walshaw, agreed.
“It really pissed me off that there’s some blokes here saying the dam flooded me, that’s bullshit. I don’t care what they say,” he said outside the local emergency command headquarters at Forbes town hall.
“Every flood is different, this flood here, the height should have put the water right through the guts of town at a reasonable depth, that didn’t happen.”
Mr Walshaw said the dam physically managed the outflows up and down, and will continue to do so as a second peak looks set to hit next week and more evacuations remain on the cards.
“When the rivers were full, running into the Lachlan, they took a bit more – when that slowed down they increased their outflow, they kept it at a reasonable level without causing too much of a problem.”
One of the advantages to a flood controlled by man is that authorities can give communities weeks of notice before torrential flows start to hit them.
Many were able to get their most important assets to higher ground before water cut off their access, saving a damage bill estimated to be in the tens of millions from surging into the hundreds of millions.
“I’ve got a saying,” said Mr Walshaw. “The six Ps: Prior preparation prevents piss poor performance.”