The floods of this winter (2019/2020) have been relentless, the 5th wettest on record and the wettest February since records began, with nearly 4 times the average monthly rainfall in some areas. The surrounding countryside of my own home, in the City of Worcester, has looked similar to the lake district, miles and miles of nothing but water.
To date some 4,600 people have been flooded by filthy, stinking water (and if you’ve not smelt floodwater, let me tell you, it’s horrific!) The huge impact on people’s lives can never be underestimated. I have been involved in flood risk since my own home flooded 20 years ago, and have seen many floods, but this winter really has been ‘something else’ and I fear, unless things change, this may become the new norm.
I don’t work on the front line, but I do work very closely with those who do. I know how incredibly hard all those who managed this flood have worked – and we mustn’t forget that 128,000 homes weren’t flooded, due to existing flood defences. Volunteer Flood Wardens have also worked tirelessly to support their communities and should be saluted. I also know the utter devastation that so many people have suffered as a result of being flooded. Being flooded destroys lives. Even on ‘my patch’, over 1,000 homes have been flooded, and some for the second time this winter. I have travelled around the country and seen first-hand the suffering of so many people. Every time I appear on television or radio, I’m contacted afterwards for help. I’ve spent hours talking to and messaging people who just don’t know which way to turn. People already have ‘stuff’ going on in their lives and being flooded can literally break them. And let me tell you that the recovery from the flood is far worse than the flood itself! People struggle to carry on with daily lives, whilst trying to ‘project manage’ a building site, that is their own home and, to put it mildly, managing an insurance claim causes huge levels of stress.
So many lessons need to be learned, we need to understand how we can manage floods better, and that’s not just building more flood defences. There is no ‘one fix’ to manage flooding. I’ve always looked on Flood Risk Management as a jigsaw of many pieces, all working together to reduce flood risk, involving many elements of proper land management, working with, not against nature. Big changes could be made by enhancing the sponge like capabilities of our uplands, slowing the flow and better general catchment management, and why on earth are we continuing to build floodplains, which is where the river naturally goes when it’s full?! We cannot continue to build houses to flood, flood risk needs to be managed at a development level, as sustainable drainage can reduce flood risk and enhance our environment.
One thing I do feel passionately about is what we can do at a home level to reduce the impact a flood can have. It’s extremely important that we better prepare for floods. I was incredibly struck by how many people – who had received a good warning of impending floods – had done nothing to help themselves prior to it happening. We too can work with nature, by replacing paved drives with permeable paving and planting more ‘water thirsty green stuff’. Last year, I talked to many people who had been flooded who had taken moves to adapt their homes or businesses to reduce the impact a flood can have – you can read about this here –
I have heard lots of positive feedback on how people either didn’t flood or had been able to recover very quickly and indeed, some businesses based in Hebden Bridge were opened again in only a few days, rather than many months! I encourage everyone newly flooded to think about ‘recoverable repair’, and to think about installing robust flood resilience products at a home or in their business, as this too is part of the flood risk management ‘jigsaw’.
I sincerely hope that these recent floods are a ‘game changer’, and with the huge and very real threat that climate change poses, we cannot continue pressing the snooze button and wait until next time!
Author: Mary Dhonau, of MDA, Flood Resilience Consultants