Living on the edge – A kind of madness!!!

Although we’re enjoying and praising the few sunny days we’ve been experiencing, in Oxfordshire lately, some of us will still remember the downpour and flooding, we experienced recently and, even more recently, in Illinois, USA. I for one remember being a mix of excited and scared about driving through the river which suddenly appeared on my way home through Oxfordshire one day recently. I was lucky enough that my car got through it but further along there was another which didn’t and had to be dragged out by a tractor.

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This isn't my car but a good representation of what it was like

Although flooding has been happening more often recently, which we put down to global warming; flooding is a natural process which helps to enrich soils around rivers and to maintain the diversity of wildlife and habitats. Traditionally, we have tended to live and build near water sources. However, in view of climate change, developments of housings on floodplain is not only unjustifiable, but ‘a kind of madness’ according to Nick Reeves in his CIWEM article1.  He argued that development on flood plains reduces the capacity of rivers to transport, store and absorb flood waters. And what are we or, more precisely, the authorities doing about it?

According to a House of Commons’ report2 on flooding, published on 7 May 2008, no organisation currently has responsibility for surface water flooding, at either national or local level, and that this lack of responsibility must be addressed by government. I was surprised to read that, as I thought the government had everything covered. Okay, floods weren’t that common until recently, but I thought the government would have a department which dealt with natural disasters of any kind whenever and wherever they might happen. On reading further I found out the report is based on the floods which occurred during the summer 2007, when over 44 000 homes were flooded, thousands of people lost their electricity, water supply or both, and 13 people lost their lives. At least £3 billion worth of damage was caused. It also revealed that most organisations have focussed a lot more on river and coastal flooding than on surface water flooding, as coastal floods remain the most serious threat. However, it’s been noted that ⅔ of last summer’s floods were caused by surface water. Seems like a lot of discussion went on in the Commons and to cut a long story short, it seems like the formation of a Flood Agency was rejected and surface floods became the responsibility of local government, with the Environment Agency (EA) providing advice. See the full report for details on funding and action plans. The Met Office even provided a map showing floods at-a-glance for the 2007 floods.

The EA Flood page provides a lot of advice on dealing with floods. The first thing I read as I checked the flood page was that 7 million people in 2 million properties in England and Wales live in flood risk areas. The EA flood page offers a current flood warning – you can even sign up to Flood-line Warnings Direct, which will deliver flood warnings direct to your mobile phone. It also offers advice on managing flood risk; a guide to rights and responsibilities of riverside occupation, which is entitled ‘living on the edge’ to which I think they should have added – ‘a kind of madness’. You will also find practical advice guides on what to do to protect yourself and your property; what to do to stay safe in a flood; how to recover from a flood; and what to do if you have just been flooded. The CAB Abstracts database also have a lot of records on all aspects of flooding. I was discussing the subject with a colleague and she suggested that surface flooding might also be a result of more people paving their gardens more now than in the past, which removes the natural drainage of rain water into the soil. I think she has a very good point. Is paving then another ‘kind of madness’ which should be avoided?

1.    Reeves, N. (2008). Plain insanity leads to misery. Water and Wastewater Treatment, May 2008, CIWEM.
2.    House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (2008). Flooding: Fifth Report of Session 2007-08, Vol 1. London: The Stationery Office Ltd.

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