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Failed flood levees in northern Victoria come after years-long delays for repairs, Nationals MP says

Frantic works have been done this week to build a levee around Echuca in Victoria's north-east to protect the town from flooding, but elsewhere existing levees have failed.

There are concerns levees downstream will suffer a similar fate with communities angry following years of lobbying to make sure their homes would be protected.

On Tuesday emergency permission was given to repair and fortify flood levee banks at Torrumbarry, north-west of Echuca, to prevent the Goulburn River from flooding the region.

Victorian leader of the Nationals and Murray Plains MP Peter Walsh said there were "some real challenges" in getting permission to fix the levee at Torrumbarry through relevant government departments.

"But that was granted [on Tuesday], and common sense has prevailed," he said.

"I'm told by the locals, if that [Torrumbarry] levee fails, you'll be able to tie your boat to the top story of the pub at Cohuna, because that's how far the water will go."

Another emergency approval for works downstream of Koondrook, north-east of Kerang, was granted on Wednesday to raise the levee above 1975 flood levels.

"There's a similar issue to what would have been at Torrumbarry, where a levee has failed because the rivers eroded away," Mr Walsh said. 

Mr Walsh said communities were frustrated as they've tried for years to get these levees fixed, with claims that Parks Victoria and the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (DELWP) had "been a blocker for years".

"It's almost counterintuitive that you [have] got to rush in there in an emergency to do it," Mr Walsh said.

"But that's the only time you can elevate it to get decisions made.

"And I think that's just a tragedy for all the communities that are affected."

Policy to work 'with environment'

When contacted by the ABC, both Parks Victoria and DELWP said the responsibility of these two levees was with the Northern Central Catchment Management Authority (CMA).

The Northern Central CMA was contacted for comment but did not respond before publication.

The 2016 Victoria Floodplain Management Strategy developed by DELWP, appeared to move the focus of flood mitigation away from engineered structures, such as levees and culverts, to other options.

"There is a bigger role for non-structural measures such as land-use planning, flood insurance, flood warning systems, flood education and flood awareness," the strategy said.

It says there are high risks "with unmaintained, low-construction-standard levee systems" and "spending funds on levees … without understanding their full costs and benefits doesn't make sense".

"It is time to rethink and reset the approach, working more with the environment to allow wetlands to reduce the impacts of flooding by holding and slowing floodwater at appropriate times," the strategy said.

Other levees fail

Over the weekend, the Loch Garry levee also broke in several places amid criticism from locals that Goulburn Murray Water left it too late to open the gates.

Downstream of Loch Garry, north-west of Shepparton at Wyuna, dairy farmer Russel Pell said there had been significant levee breaching on the northern side of the Goulburn River.

"I really feel for those people that have been breached," he said.

"I've been there myself a couple of times [in previous floods in 1993 and 1974]."

Mr Pell said the levee also failed in several spots on the southern side of the river, closer to Coomboona and nearby Undera.

He said because of these breaches, the small settlement of Wyuna, west of Coomboona and Undera, had so far been spared major flooding, which was "an incredible relief".

"But in saying that, I really feel for those people that have been flooded — we've been lucky this time," he said.

"There's a certain amount of heartache that goes out to those people that had been flooded because we know what it's like."

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