Natural Flood Management Would Be Overwhelmed By Britain's Winter Super-floods

Natural Flood Management Would Be Overwhelmed By Britain's Winter Super-floods

As large swathes of the UK endure the worst floods in living memory, hearts and minds are rightly focused on protecting people and property. At one point the government’s Environment Agency had issued a record 594 flood warnings or alerts – its map of the country was a sea of orange and red symbols:

Once the floods recede, there will doubtless be a period of reflection on what could have been done better. It may be tempting to point the finger of blame or to promote a particular solution. But the hard truth is that there is no silver bullet for “preventing” floods.

There are common sense actions, like avoiding new development in places that are known to flood. Official statistics suggest that about 10% of new residential addresses are created in these high risk areas (classified as National Flood Zone 3). It is also smart to protect critical infrastructure like bridges or power substations to high standards. Yet a 2016 government review of flood resilience revealed more than 500 assets vulnerable to flooding.

Other measures can help ensure that floods, when they do occur, are less devastating. These include paved floors, valves to shut off foul water, or raising electrical circuits. Who should pay for these is another matter.

However, we need to accept that the climate is changing, and with it the pattern and types of river flooding. For instance, the Met Office has charted a steady decline in the number and severity of substantial snowfall events since the 1960s. Less snow means subsequent spring melting is becoming rarer. Instead, the country is seeing more heavy rainfall, with winter records being broken on a regular basis.

Or consider how a warmer Atlantic boosted the intensity of Storm Desmond in December 2015 by 25%. Desmond set the UK’s 24hr rainfall record and caused severe flooding across much of northern England.

These consequences are exactly what the climate models have been predicting for decades. The net result is more water flowing from the headwaters of rivers in shorter periods. We are also observing simultaneous flooding across many river basins on a regular basis – the period since the late 1990s has been especially flood-rich.

Natural solutions?

We aren’t going to halt or reverse climate change anytime soon. However there are some technical solutions that might help reduce (note “reduce” not “prevent”) the risk of flooding. First, we will need to build new flood and coastal defences to higher standards to cope with climate change.

Second, we’ll need state-of-the art forecasts that can zoom right in and predict the risk of flooding from street to street. These next generation systems will warn at risk communities and businesses, and could help emergency services to navigate flooded road networks.

But many, including the government, are now promoting the wider uptake of “natural” flood management. This refers to various techniques intended to retain water or slow it down, or store it in floodplains without causing harm.

Examples of natural flood management include: soil conservation, which means more water soaks into the ground rather than staying on the surface; adding large wood debris to river channels and building “leaky” dams to delay the flow from upland streams; wetland creation, urban ponds, and setback of flood embankments to make space to store excess water. There may also be wider environmental benefits such as tree planting, habitat creation or carbon sequestration in new forests and re-wetted uplands.

Overwhelmed by ‘super-floods’

This all sounds very appealing and is the subject of ongoing research. Unfortunately, when we worked on the most comprehensive meta-analysis of natural flood management to date we concluded that such techniques are useful for reducing nuisance floods but would be overwhelmed by the types of super-floods seen in the UK this winter.

Throw a month’s worth of rain on a saturated catchment in one weekend and no nature-based solution is going to hold back the water. Given large UK river basins generally host various buildings, roads, many different types of fields and so on, it is also impossible to detect exactly what portion of changes in observed flood risk can be attributed to a patchwork of leaky dams, soil conservation and so forth. This is also very difficult even within modelled worlds.

We don’t want to discourage natural flood management, but we need more candour about its capabilities. Given the challenges posed by climate and landscape changes, we should be drawing on the full tool kit. Raising hopes of flood “prevention” by nature-based solutions will only lead to disappointment. They have a place, but only within a much broader, coordinated set of responses.The Conversation

About The Author

Robert Wilby, Professor of Hydroclimatic Modelling, Loughborough University and Simon Dadson, Honorary Fellow of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and Professor of Hydrology, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Life After Carbon: The Next Global Transformation of Cities

by Peter Plastrik , John Cleveland
1610918495The future of our cities is not what it used to be. The modern-city model that took hold globally in the twentieth century has outlived its usefulness. It cannot solve the problems it helped to create—especially global warming. Fortunately, a new model for urban development is emerging in cities to aggressively tackle the realities of climate change. It transforms the way cities design and use physical space, generate economic wealth, consume and dispose of resources, exploit and sustain the natural ecosystems, and prepare for the future. Available On Amazon

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

by Elizabeth Kolbert
1250062187Over the last half-billion years, there have been Five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human. Available On Amazon

Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats

by Gwynne Dyer
1851687181Waves of climate refugees. Dozens of failed states. All-out war. From one of the world’s great geopolitical analysts comes a terrifying glimpse of the strategic realities of the near future, when climate change drives the world’s powers towards the cut-throat politics of survival. Prescient and unflinching, Climate Wars will be one of the most important books of the coming years. Read it and find out what we’re heading for. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

LATEST VIDEOS

To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
by Swapnesh Masrani
Ambitious targets have been set by the UK and Scottish governments to become net-zero carbon economies by 2050 and 2045…
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
by Theresa Crimmins
Across much of the United States, a warming climate has advanced the arrival of spring. This year is no exception.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
A Georgia Town Gets Half Of Its Electricity From President Jimmy Carter's Solar Farm
A Georgia Town Gets Half Of Its Electricity From President Jimmy Carter's Solar Farm
by Johnna Crider
Plains, Georgia, is a small town that is just south of Columbus, Macon, and Atlanta and north of Albany. It is the…
Majority of US Adults Believe Climate Change Is Most Important Issue Today
by American Psychological Association
As the effects of climate change become more evident, more than half of U.S. adults (56%) say climate change is the…
How These Three Financial Firms Could Change The Direction Of The Climate Crisis
How These Three Financial Firms Could Change The Direction Of The Climate Crisis
by Mangulina Jan Fichtner, et al
A silent revolution is happening in investing. It is a paradigm shift that will have a profound impact on corporations,…
Investing In Climate Change
by Goldman Sachs
“Top of Mind at Goldman Sachs” Podcast – In this episode, we dig into what may be the most important issue of our time:…
Climate Change: Briefings from Southern Africa
by SABC Digital News
Climate change affects us all, but it can be a confusing business. Three leading South African scientists who have…

LATEST ARTICLES

5 Ways To Teach Children About Climate Change
5 Ways To Teach Children About Climate Change
by William Finnegan
Climate change is an interdisciplinary subject that both school children and adults think is important. And as we deal…
This Is The Arctic's Recent Carbon Emissions We Should Fear For Climate Change
This Is The Arctic's Recent Carbon Emissions We Should Fear For Climate Change
by Joshua Dean
The Arctic is predicted to warm faster than anywhere else in the world this century, perhaps by as much as 7°C.
Why This Is A Once In A Lifetime Chance To Reshape How We Travel
Why This Is A Once In A Lifetime Chance To Reshape How We Travel
by Marcus Enoch and James Warren
This isn’t a normal period of disruption, which is usually caused by failures in supply such as road accidents or…
Why A Better World Needs Better Economics
Why A Better World Needs Better Economics
by David Korten
Science warns us that the 2020s will be humanity’s last opportunity to save itself from a climate catastrophe.
How Plants And Animals Share Response To Climate Change
How Plants And Animals Share Response To Climate Change
by Daniel Stolte
Plants and animals are remarkably similar in their responses to changing environmental conditions across the globe,…
Why Poorer Suburbs Are More At Risk In Warming Cities
Why Poorer Suburbs Are More At Risk In Warming Cities
by Jason Byrne and Tony Matthews
The many reasons for this include urban densification policies, climate change and social trends such as bigger houses…
A Second Us Dust Bowl Would Hit World Food Stocks
A Second Us Dust Bowl Would Hit World Food Stocks
by Tim Radford
When the US Great Plains are hit again by sustained drought, the world’s food stocks will feel the heat.
Rising Seas: To Keep Humans Safe, Let Nature Shape The Coast
Rising Seas: To Keep Humans Safe, Let Nature Shape The Coast
by Iris Möller
Even under the most conservative climate change scenarios, sea levels 30cm higher than at present seem all but certain…