Tuesday, July 24, 2007

British Floods - Early Reflections from the Front

It's getting heavy in England. Damian Carrington, online Environment editor for New Scientist, starts his blog article, Flooding in England: What can be done? with some commentary from the scientific community - yes, this amount of rain at this time of the year in such a short timespan is highly unusual. It's the highest May-June total on record, in fact. And the way the storms lingered over the island - also very unusual.

Carrington goes on to describe the intense analysis and solution-searching that's happening right now in England - which is up a creek right now, coming to grips with the prospect that the climate has, indeed, changed and may never return to what it recently was. Time to adapt for annual flooding? How about improving drainage?

That has been a common refrain – you'll never stop all floods. All you can aim for is to reduce the risk of them, and cope better when they happen. So how do you do that? One big issue is run-off.

When rain falls, the ground can soak up some of it, meaning it does not run into rivers and raise their level. But the harder the rain falls, the more runs off, and the less soaks in – and rainstorms are predicted to get more intense as the planet warms. The other key issue here is urbanisation – water rolls off concrete and straight into drainage channels – and that will increase with the plan to build millions of new homes.
He quotes other experts who point out other locales around the world where these problems have been dealth with, at least to some degree, already:
Ten per cent of UK housing is on flood plains, but this is quite low compared to some countries – it is 70% in Japan and 100% in the Netherlands. We need better flood defences.
He points out the obviously dysfunctional administrative structure that deals with systems key to flood control and sanitation.
...it turns out that the responsibility for the various aspects of drainage appears oddly disparate: road drainage, surface waters, sewage drainage and flood protection are the separate responsibilities of local councils, the Environment Agency and water companies. Not very joined up. What are often joined up, but shouldn’t be, are surface drainage channels and sewage drainage, making a real mess when floods happen.
It's vital, I think, for us all - and especially populous locations located in the flood plains of rivers and creeks - to learn from what England is going through. Not just the disaster recovery, but the long range changes that need to be made, from the top level government structure to the guidance provided to individual citizens, who desperately need to figure out secure housing and jobs.

The floods have already cost some $6 billion and the country now faces imposing requirements to redesign and rebuild infrastructure for a new future. Damian Carrington is open to suggestions.

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