Intergration or inundation
Barrie Clarke of Water UK says the fear of flooding is putting pressure on planners and policy-makers to work together
The news camera pans along a street under a metre of water, and comes to rest in the doorway of a silver-haired householder. Water lapping around her knees, she says: “And the taps have been off since Thursday. How can they let this happen in our country?”
It’s one of our worst water-management nightmares. Water UK is reviewing its policy on flooding. W&WT readers may have helped at our conference this month. Policy-wise of course, water gets everywhere. Agriculture, transport, manufacturing, regeneration, recreation – none of them should be dry, so to speak, if they are to be fully effective. Yet
decision makers mostly take water for granted.
“Joined-up policy” is the cliché of the moment but sums up a very necessary
concept in flood management. If there is any upside to the growing threat from of floods, it might be in raised awareness of water policy.
With this in mind, a Water UK review has identified four sector responsibilities where links with flooding are particularly close: water resources; land management; raw water quality; and sewerage infrastructure. In all of them, joint policy with stakeholders can reduce flood risk or soften the impact on the industry and its customers.
In recent months, worries about drought and flooding have seemingly taken turns in the headlines. Water industry strategies for supply and demand can help with both.
The effect on supply of more extreme future weather has been on the industry’s radar for years. Hotter summers, wetter winters and greater storm intensity have implications for winter storage, river flow and public supply.
Any policies that affect run-off are relevant, so it’s not surprising, for example, that industry interest in agriculture has grown. Changes in animal stocking, crop selection and soil treatment all have the potential to improve water-holding capacity and reduce the chances of both excess and shortage downstream.
More awareness and action on demand will also pay dividends. Recycling can play a part. Better rainwater harvesting will have a benign effect on combined sewers; likewise progress with grey-water reuse. But obviously this will depend on collaboration with homeowners, builders and local authorities to make a difference in practice.
Wise use of rural land is also essential. Draining for more productive purposes has always been the way. Now a major policy shift is under way.
Taking more account of natural processes often brings better results, including for flood prevention. So water companies are working with others to preserve or create wetlands – planned flooding – as natural reservoirs to hold up run-off.
Their commitment to biodiversity (for example the Water for Wildlife partnership with Wildlife Trusts) comes to the same thing. And their role as consultees on development proposals is increasingly essential.
It is no different in urban or suburban areas. For example, the industry supports those who argue against mass covering of gardens to create parking; at the very least semi-permeable paving should be required. This may be difficult and unpopular but, without integrated policies, it is a non-starter.
One of many concerns about the Water Framework Directive is that it is half-hearted about links between the good status of watercourses and flooding. Billions spent by companies improving sewage effluent could be wasted if we fail to cut diffuse pollution and the flooding that increases its potential for harm. Fortunately, the government builds
the connection into its consultations on both “catchment-sensitive farming” and also “making space for water”. Perhaps most encouraging is the fact that implementation of the directive actually rests on the concept of “integrated river-basin management”.
To test the links between flooding and water-industry policy, follow the money.
Look at investment through the periodic review process.In the decade to 2010, £2.3B will
be pumped into sorting out unsatisfactory intermittent discharges; over £1B is earmarked for solving sewer flooding between 2005 and 2010. This is a major and essential effort agreed by ministers and regulators.
Yet the government is surely right in pointing to the need for better coordination between responsible bodies (Making space for Water, Defra 2004). “Present arrangements may result in solutions being implemented which are sub-optimal from an economic, environmental, social and hydraulic viewpoint.”
In 2003, Water UK’s legal adviser summarised the spaghetti-like roles of “responsible bodies” in flood management in England and Wales. They were government (two departments); regional planning bodies; local authorities for planning, highways and flood defence; water companies; the Environment Agency; and internal drainage boards. Let’s hope the new joined-upness holds.