Launceston was settled at the junction of two rivers - the North Esk and South Esk. These are fed by a system of rivers and lakes that cover 14% of Tasmania. These two rivers meet to form the Tamar/Kanamaluka River.
Most of Invermay and some parts of Newstead sit within the flood plain, an area that will flood in a natural river system. In fact, Invermay's ground level is actually below the high tide, and if the flood levees were not in existence some parts of Invermay would be subject to water inundation twice a day with high tide.
Since Launceston was established, there have been 36 significant floods with 1929 reputedly the worst. However the years 1852, 1863 and 1893 are also recorded as very serious flood events. The 1929 flood saw the evacuation of 4,000 people. 1,000 homes were inundated and 20 ultimately condemned. During the flood, 4,250 cumecs* of water flowed from the South Esk River and 567 cumecs* flowed from the North Esk River, prompting authorities to seriously consider the need for a new levee system.
Image: Corner of Holbrook and Forster St, Invermay April 1929
A Flood Levee Project to protect areas of Launceston began in the 1960s to provide a level of protection from flood waters. A series of levees - some as high as four metres - were built as part of the Flood Levee Project to protect the low-lying areas on the flood plain, separating the city from the rivers. These levees have now been repaired and rebuilt.
Launceston's most recent significant flood was in June 2016, when 2,375 cumecs of water from the South Esk River and approximately 800 cumecs from the North Esk River resulted in the largest flood since 1969. The levees held, limiting damage; however, some unprotected homes and businesses near the Tamar Yacht Basin, Newstead, St Leonards and Nunamara were inundated and Invermay was threatened. Traffic was disrupted due to parts of the city being cut off. The City of Launceston utilised this website and its social media channels to communicate regular updates and evacuation notices and keep community members well-informed.
More recently in October 2022, the City of Launceston again suffered from significant flooding with the North Esk river at a similar height to the 2016 flood, however the South Esk river was significantly lower.
The City of Launceston also has a long history of flash flooding due to urban development in flood prone areas. However significant investment in a variety of projects has improved the infrastructure to minimise the impacts of urban flooding. This work continues to be implemented.
*Cumecs: a cubic metre per second, as a unit of rate of flow of water or refers to the volume of water in the river - one cumec equals one cubic metre of water flowing past a point in one second. One cubic metre of water equals one thousand litres and weighs one tonne.