Environment Agency warns that climate change continues to cause serious problems

The Environment Agency is warning of the dangers of climate change following the need to top up levels on the River Ouse, in East Sussex, from a local reservoir after levels dropped to the lowest point since the winter months.

The Ouse flows through Lewes, which is nationally recognised as having been the worst flood hit town in the country – with over eight hundred homes and businesses affected by flooding and nearly 700 cars damaged or written off. However, the hot and dry weather of June, following on from a dry May, has resulted in river levels dropping rapidly across the Southern Region and it has become necessary to take urgent action to keep rivers flowing to prevent environmental damage, the Agency says.

In West Sussex, levels on the River Lavant at Chichester are so low that it will cease flowing within the next week if there is no rain, which is in sharp contrast to the dangerously high levels that threatened the town with flooding in December last year, necessitating the construction of an emergency flood relief channel. In Kent, most spring fed rivers are running well above the seasonal norm but the Medway has fallen quite sharply in the last few weeks and the Agency has now been obliged to put the routine summer abstraction control rules into operation in order to protect river flows.

Conversely, whilst the Environment Agency is acting to protect the environment from the dry weather there are still towns and villages within Hampshire that are suffering the effects of groundwater flooding, it says.

The Agency warns that climate change is believed to be the cause of these seemingly contradictory circumstances and it continues to be gravely concerned that flooding will once again cause devastation this winter.

Since much of the Southern Region is situated on a chalk aquifer, groundwater flooding poses a serious flood risk as chalk gradually soaks up rainfall. The rise is slow, but once the ground is saturated, water is equally slow to drain away – especially in Hampshire where the chalk is fairly retentive.

Although groundwater levels generally fall during summer months, to reach a low in September, the prolonged rainfall of the winter months has meant that homes in the Hampshire villages around Winchester, Eastleigh and the Test and Itchen valleys are only just beginning to see the end of the flooding. Some villages in these valleys are still pumping groundwater out of cellars.

In other areas of Hampshire, farmers and growers are having to make heavy use of spray irrigation licences following a hot, dry June putting different pressures on the environment. On the Isle of Wight, for example, water resources are limited and the River Eastern Yar is under pressure to supply water to both the public and for the growing of food. River flows on the Eastern Yar have halved in the last four weeks.

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