Water palaver

This time last year the UK was sizzling its way through the hottest July in years.

With the hosepipe ban making parts of the countryside look like the Serengeti, and everything from the car-wash to the putting green demonised as the epitome of wastefulness, hanging onto water was our number one priority. Twelve months on, with large areas of the UK submerged, we can’t get rid of the stuff quickly enough.

And just as last year the finger of blame was pointed at the water companies and their leaky reservoirs, this summer’s floods have sparked the inevitable hunt for a scapegoat – with everyone from the government to the Environment Agency being lambasted for not reacting quickly enough to the Met Office’s warnings.

This reaction is understandable. If all of your material possessions have effectively been washed away, it’s inevitable that you’re going to want to hold someone accountable. But, to be fair to the authorities, apart from a few obvious practical measures that perhaps weren’t taken rapidly enough – such as moving portable flood barriers into position – it’s difficult to see what could be done that isn’t being done now.

However, according to engineers, scientists and experts from the water industry, there’s plenty that can be done to reduce the impact of similarly extreme wet weather in the future.

It seems that what’s really required is a more joined up approach to our fluctuating rainfall; one that holds back the flow of flood waters when it’s wet and stores excess water to help us in times of drought. Though there’s no single panacea. One particularly effective way of doing this in developed areas could be through the use of sustainable urban drainage systems, or SUDS. This is an approach to managing rainfall in urban areas that replicates natural drainage methods. Rather than using underground pipe systems to prevent flooding by removing water as quickly as possible, SUDS uses a range of systems, such as porous pavements, reservoirs, and open pipes to both manage runoff flowrates and reduce the impact of urbanisation on flooding in other areas.

Whatever the solution, with the government suggesting this week that some of the three million more anticipated new homes may be constructed on flood plains, a fundamental rethink over flood defences is clearly essential.

Jon Excell, Features Editor