UK floods: long-term water management requires ‘clear strategy’, say experts



Some of the worst impacts of the recent floods could have been avoided if the government had used a more forward-looking water management strategy, a group of experts have said.

In an open letter to the Daily Telegraph, 17 water management professionals from environmental and planning organisations urge the prime minister to adopt a clear strategy for future flood prevention.

The letter comes in the wake of a flooding crisis that saw the government and Environment Agency heavily criticised for their emergency planning and response.

The Met Office yesterday confirmed that this winter had been the wettest on the UK’s records since 1910, after three months of almost unrelenting heavy rain and strong winds left some areas of southern England and Wales severely flooded. 

Forecasters say the worst of the crisis is probably over, but warn that it may take some time for floodwaters, and the risk of further flooding, to disappear. 

The Environment Agency still has two severe flood warnings in place in Somerset, where some villages have been cut off by high water since the new year. The Met Office has also warned that more heavy rain is likely to fall over the coming weeks.

Warning of future disasters on a similar scale, the group of experts warns that the government’s approach to flood management is too focused on the short-term.

“While we are pleased to hear that the prime minister will provide leadership and funding, it is essential that government actions are based on best practice developed over many years,” they say. 

“Water management techniques could have helped prevent the effect of flooding on villages, towns and over surrounding land seen recently. Emergency measures are in order for the immediate crisis. But in the long term, the management of water requires a clear strategy.” 

They suggest a range of measures that could reduce the future impact of flooding in the UK, including improving the resilience of homes built on flood plains, sustainable drainage systems and better co-operation between the relevant organisations and authorities.

Dredging – something called for by many affected residents in the Somerset Levels – is suggested, but only in the lower reaches of rivers when used alongside forestry and land management techniques that would hold back water higher upstream.

The letter concludes by asking David Cameron to hold a cross-departmental conference, including Whitehall departments, the Environment Agency and other experts to discuss how a repeat of the scale of damage caused by recent floods can be prevented.

Also writing in the Telegraph, shadow chancellor Ed Balls promised that if elected, Labour would take a longer-term approach to flood management.  

“Rather than the short-termist salami-slicing of budgets we have seen, we need instead to make long-term decisions now that can save money in the future,” he said.

In response, a Downing Street spokesman said, “We have already announced a record level of capital investment at £370m in 2015/16 rising to over £400m in 2020/21 as part of our long-term plan to improve resilience. 

“We need to employ a range of techniques to alleviate flooding, including dredging in some areas. We will look at the lessons to be learned to see where additional flood protection can help.”

Earlier this month, government advisors warned that the UK must spend an extra £500m over the next four years to prepare for the increased risk of flooding brought by climate change.

Further reading:

Met Office: UK has had its wettest winter on record

Poll: 47% of Britons say floods are a result of climate change

Flooding poses risk to UK economy and could worsen with climate change

Lord Stern’s climate change warning: warmer and wetter UK ‘not a coincidence’

Extra £500m flood spending needed to keep pace with climate change


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