Soggy times

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place,

The flood may bear me far

There are times when I hate living in a hilly town. Usually when I’m trekking back from the station, in the cold and the dark and there just doesn’t seem to be enough puff left in me to get to the top. And then it rains and all the water runs past my door, down the hill and collects in the riverside town at the bottom.

Watching the news last night, aghast at the awful flooding happening in Yorkshire and Derbyshire, I’m even more thankful. I’m not gloating, by the way, I’m not that mean – just grateful for every above-sea-level inch I have to climb.

This isn’t of course, the first flood we’ve had. Nor will it be the last, obviously. Northern Ireland, East Yorkshire, the Midlands, Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Derbyshire, southern Scotland and Kent, South Wales and Cumbria: pretty much every area you can name in the UK has suffered some degree of flooding at one point or another over the past 20 years.

So we know it’s going to come at some point, so why can’t we do something to prevent it? That’s the $64,000 question. Why can’t the Met Office, with all its technical know-how gathered over the years, predict where these floods are going to happen and warn people properly?

For starters, the weather doesn’t follow all the rules all the time. A friend is a meteorologist for the Met Office and she says that all they can predict only so far using their astonishingly sophisticated computer modelling systems, but that there are so many variables that tiny changes in one part of the equation can have unforeseen effects somewhere else – basically, chaos theory – whereby a butterfly flapping its wings in south east Asia could cause the Derwent to overflow its banks. The Environment Agency did, in fact, issue warnings at the beginning of October. But then October was wetter and windier than it has ever been – and that’s saying something. It’s one thing to warn of a flood risk, quite another thing to be able to say just how much water there will be and where it will go.

So if we can’t stop the weather and we can’t predict it accurately enough to prevent scenes like we’ve seen over the last few days, what can we do?

The construction industry has a myriad of products and systems at its disposal that can help the alleviate flooding but these need to be specified and sold and installed properly, in the right places. SUDS, storm water systems, flood management products, permeable paving, green roofs etc. can only be used if they are specified and put in as part of the build in the first place. And that requires architects, planners, specifiers, housebuilders and government to know about the products, to be able to get hold of the products and, more importantly, to want to do something to prevent the problems.


About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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