Sunday, 9 February 2014

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.

River Avon in Warwick - Relatively normal for this time of year
 Given the furore over the flooding in Somerset and some of the comments that have started to be circulated I thought it opportune to make flooding the topic of this blog post. In the course of this blog I will no doubt annoy people who have been flooded out, I do not mean to cause offence. I cannot begin to understand the pain and loss of having ones property invaded in this way and it is terrible to have to deal with the aftermath and the destruction but, and there is always a but, this is not say that certain factors  that are now being called for are the best approach for the future.

We have a tendency in Britain to suffer from reactionism. Politicians tend to view things in the short term – usually 5 years terms of office or in terms of what is popular and not what is necessarily right. This view reinforces again my concern that uneducated politicians and bureaucrats will do what is necessary to appease rather than review the scientific evidence and make a rational choice.

What has caused the flooding then, for if we are to truly stop people getting flooded out we need to understand causes before we can formulate the defence. We can point fingers several ways, deforestation of headwaters, flood defences protecting towns at the expense of farmland, not enough dredging of rivers, too much building and dare I say it... it rained... it rained a lot. January for example had 35% more rainfall than average according to the MET Office. This combined with tidal surges and high winds and followed a December that had 154% of average rainfall. Is it any surprise then that some level of flooding occurred? Probably not and those affected by it probably were prepared for some if not the scope of it. 

My concern is over what happens next. There are demands for dredging to be stepped up and that might work a little. Just dredging is a simplistic response. The quantity of rain we have had would still have caused flooding regardless whether the Severn or Avon had been dredged from source to sea. What is needed is a holistic look at the whole problem. Some part of the problem is at the big and scary climate level, this is not something you can alter at the flick of a switch or the dig of a ditch. Dredging will easy some flow and harm the ecology of the river to very little long term affect. More importantly we need to be looking at the use of floodplains... the clue is in the word. We shouldn’t be surprised when homes built on a flood plain flood.

Countryfile had an interesting article last week regarding the reforestation of uplands to store water instead of the current sheep farming strategy. The approach was a little draconian but there is certainly something to be said for creating soak aways, detention basins and reforested areas. This has the double benefit of reducing flooding and creating homes for wildlife. 

I read with dismay Conservative Peers lambasting the Environment Agency for putting wildlife above people when they discovered plans to reinforce the train line at Dwalish prepared last year had yet to be acted on because they were waiting on an Environmental Assessment regarding Bird life along the coast. I can see now that in the urge to soothe people’s concerns environmental considerations will be even more curtailed in the need for a quick fix and to solve an ecological and hydrological solution with a political one.

I am not inspired by the fact the Lord Chris Smith is the head of the Environment Agency, his background as a politician was in Culture, Media and Sport and his original education is in English. I have little faith that in future the response to these floods will be made responsibly. I expect his head will be offered up on a platter and someone equally unsuitable will be sought to replace him either way I see an opportunity to improve matters for all being subsumed into political point scoring of the worst kind with no side actually coming out as a winner.

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