Why flood defences must be improved quickly

on 17 December, 2015

More needs to be done to improve flood defences in light of the recent flooding, according to Michael White, business development director of Alumasc Water Management Solutions

Carlisle is in the news again. What was supposed to be a one in 100 year flooding event has happened three times in the last 10 years.

In 2005, 1,844 properties were flooded and three people died. In November 2009, a daily record of rain fell on Cumbria causing widespread flooding across the county. One person lost their life, while 2,239 properties and 3,057 businesses were affected.

A £6m flood defence wall was built in Carlisle to withstand the 2009 highs of 15.2 feet but, in the latest flooding, the River Greta surged to 17.4 feet, overwhelming the new defences.

The Environment Agency said at least 8,600 homes had been protected over the weekend and even though water poured over the top of some flood defences, they had provided vital extra time for emergency services to evacuate homes.

That may be, but in Carlisle's misery there is little patience with what sounds like excuses for a problem not solved. Particularly as the government put 300 other flood defence schemes on hold in the area because they were dubbed "low priority".

Flooding is becoming more frequent and more severe in the UK as climate change increases the frequency of storms and the intensity of extreme rainfall.

No party or government has prepared for this - our response nationally is patchwork and piecemeal. So far, the costs have mainly been in disruption, in infrastructure and property rather than lives. We cannot expect that to continue.

Yet, we are still building for yesterday when the climate was more predictable and less volatile. Flooding, torrential rain and disabling storms are still considered rare events. But they are not, and we have to start building for the real world. Building for yesterday is hugely expensive. And it's a great deal more costly when we factor in the extent and regularity of the inevitable misery, disruption in lives and business, and the expense of clean-up and repair.

Managing water successfully in today's construction environment means thinking differently: rain to drain - from roof to surface water and below, so water can be channelled in a controlled and non-destructive manner to drain safely away.

Water's journey cuts across normal boundaries and responsibilities in building, and solving the problem and changing how we build requires many different people to work together in a more integrated way than they are used to: roofers, engineers, specifiers, surveyors, contractors, builders and builders' merchants.

In this industry, we focus on problems we can address directly, in construction itself. But many of the problems we need to address are further upstream and our solutions can only be part of integrated solutions on a broader scale.

Changing how we build will take time, but there is no other way. That's why we merged the four water management brands in Alumasc into AWMS to make one joined-up brand and an integrated solution.

The first sentence of the UK Government's National Security Strategy document begins: "The floods of 2007…"

Government has yet to practice what it preaches, but it is slowly sinking in. Prevention is a lot less expensive than clean up and cure.


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