New flood proposals published while sewage overflow poisons river

Environment Minister Elliot Morley published new government proposals for tackling the risk of flooding and coastal erosion over the next 20 years, this week, just days before a sudden downpour caused extreme sewage flooding in London.

600,000 tonnes of untreated sewage poured into the Thames this week as a result of flooding, killing thousands of fish

600,000 tonnes of untreated sewage poured into the Thames this week as a result of flooding, killing thousands of fish

The new strategy - Making Space For Water - is to take the place of the current strategy, which is eleven years old, and contains ideas on what might be done to tackle all types of flooding and tries to bring together all areas of government policy.

Solutions raised in the paper include maintaining and improving sea and river walls, making space for water such as saltmarsh buffer zones and wetlands, and using minor, non-strategic roads as flood channels in extreme events, with raised kerbstones to contain the water.

"Climate change means we may well see more and worse flooding in the future. We must factor in and plan for this across the board, working closely with the insurance industry and other interested parties, so that the adverse consequences for people and business are minimised," Mr Morley said.

Just how imperative new ideas are was highlighted after heavy storms flooded London's sewers this week, forcing 600,000 tonnes of untreated sewage and urban run-off into the Thames. The storm sewage - equivalent in weight to 13 Titanics - was a combination of effluent, faecal matter, paper and other unsavoury items mixed with gallons of water which had to overflow into the river to prevent it flooding London's streets.

This overflow used up the oxygen supplies of the river causing the death of thousands of fish and raising serious public health concerns.

In a statement, the Environment Agency said: "London's network cannot properly even cope with moderate rainfall and regularly sees these discharges occurring, on average 50-60 times a year. Some mitigation procedures - such as Thames Water launching its oxygenating vessels - prevent fishkills, however they do not solve the ongoing problem. This incident is much larger and to make matters worse, the vessel cannot navigate to the location."

The Agency instructed Thames Water to add hydrogen peroxide to improve water quality but warned that this could take days to manage as the tidal effect of the river means storm sewage will be washed up and down with the current.

Government funding of the national flood defence program in England and Wales currently stands at £478 million and is set to rise to £564 million per year for the period 2005-2008 under the new proposals.

Despite acknowledging the rising danger of flooding, the government still intends to build new housing in flood plains and flood-prone areas, such as the 120,000 homes in the Thames Gateway flood plain.

However, in parallel with the flooding plans, ministers pledged to review planning laws to ensure that more attention is paid to flood risks in decisions about new developments, and said that new homes would be sited and designed to be "flood resilient."

The flooding paper consultation closes on November 1 2004 and the government hopes to publish a final strategy in early 2005.

By David Hopkins



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