Extreme weather in 2012 demonstrates risk to British business

It is vital that businesses in Britain have a secure water supply in the face of increasingly extreme weather, according to the Environment Agency (EA) chairman Lord Smith.

Flooding hit parts of England and Wales one in every five days last year, while one in every four days saw drought, according to figures published today by the EA.

The figures also revealed that last year 7,950 properties were flooded, 95 days were officially in drought, 78 days saw flooding, and a hosepipe ban affected more than 20 million people.

Rivers such as the Tyne, Ouse and Tone went from their lowest to their highest flows since records began, in the space of just four months and the EA claims its flood defences protected 200,000 homes and businesses while it issued more than 6,000 flood warnings and alerts.

In addition, new Met Office analysis suggests that the UK could experience a severe short term drought every ten years

With the population in London and the already water-stressed south east of England set to grow by 23% by 2035, Smith claimed the time to act is now.

“In 2012 we saw environmental damage caused by rivers with significantly reduced flows, hosepipe bans affecting millions and farmers and businesses left unable to take water from rivers.

“But we also saw the wettest year on record in England, with around 8,000 homes flooded. Interestingly 2007, which saw some of the most severe flooding in recent memory, also started the year with hosepipe bans,” he said.

Modelling also suggests that a changing climate could reduce some river flows by up to 80% during the summer in the next 40 years.

The EA is therefore urging businesses to look at ways to improve water storage, and reduce and share the amount of water they use as water scarcity looks likely to worsen.

The EA is promoting the use of water storage reservoirs, which provide a more reliable water supply for irrigation, mainly used by farmers, but also commercial turf growers, golf clubs, sport stadiums and race courses. There are around 1,700 small-scale storage reservoirs across England and Wales, supplying 30% of total irrigation needs and the EA argues that this will need to increase to help improve the resilience to future dry periods.

Smith added: “More of this extreme weather will exacerbate many of the problems that we already deal with including flooding and water scarcity, so taking action today to prepare and adapt homes, businesses, agricultural practices and infrastructure is vital.”

Conor McGlone

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