Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A UK Q&A - "Can we avoid more flooding?"

The BBC invited its Web readers to submit questions to an expert on urban flooding about the chances that the widespread and severe flooding of this past spring and summer would repeat itself in the future.

Given the wake-up call from the extensive damage, localities and the national government have said all the right things about improvements in flood mitigation and readiness. Professor Tom Coulthard, of the Department of Geography at the University of Hull points out some of the all-too-human obstacles to the most obvious solutions.

First there's the issue of who owns the responsibility for factors like flood water drainage.

There is an interesting split in responsibilities here, as gulleys at the edge of the road are the responsibility of the local council. However, the sewers that the gulleys drain into are the responsibility of the local water utility.
Then there's the issue of whether property owners will consent to having their property registered as being in a flood zone.

Your local water utility should have a DG5 register of properties/areas liable to flooding from sewers, and it may help to be registered on that. But people are reluctant to do this as it may blight houses when it comes to re-selling them.

There were several questions - of course - about allowing development on flood plains. This is being made more difficult by zoning restrictions, but some places still seem to be able to force development through, based on local economic benefits. Professor Coulthard described the following idea as one way to develop a flood plain with minimal land use and coverage by paving.

Multi storey development, with water resistant garages in the ground floor - that can be flooded is one idea that could allow for development on floodplains. I think we need to be creative and think more about living with flooding rather than just trying to stop it.

For most of the questions, the professor had no clear black and white answers. His final sentence summed it up: "It is a difficult issue though and there is no simple answer." We've made so many changes in the natural shape of the land in our watersheds, that property rights get in the way of wise land use. Only if Nature reclaims its natural flood plains through repeated destruction will we let loose of the lands we've occupied so boldly.

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