Blog: Mitigating The Havoc Caused By Floods | Ground Control And The Environment Agency
By Ian Cooper, Senior Contract Manager, Ground Control, Philip Munslow, Waterways Operations Manager, Environment Agency
As Storm Christoph recently demonstrated, mitigating the havoc caused by floods, (something that’s likely to be made even more commonplace by climate change), is more important than ever. This presents those of us tasked with flood prevention with an interesting conundrum – can we continue to build flood defences or do we have to look at lower-carbon alternative solutions?
In reality, flood defence assets are just one part of the Environment Agency’s overall strategy for managing high water levels. There are crucial steps we need to take before, during and after severe weather events so we can prevent as many properties as possible from flooding. And increasingly, organisations such as Ground Control are playing a critical role in that process.
While the pictures we see on television and the newspapers often focus on last-minute preparations such as sandbagging or on the work we do during flooding incidents to pump excess water away, there are lots that don’t make the headlines. Behind-the-scenes, preventative measures make a significant contribution towards our flood mitigation efforts, helping ensure our defences operate as intended. The Environment Agency has around 78,000 fixed assets to mitigate the effects of flooding, ranging from small culverts and sluice gate structures to pumping stations and the Thames Barrier. All need maintaining to ensure they do the job they were designed for and Ground Control performs a major role in this, conducting activities such as clearing debris from drain covers, cutting back embankment vegetation or pest control to ensure there are no holes in the raised grass embankments. The work also involves spraying invasive weeds, maintaining brooks so the water flows more quickly into larger rivers and pruning back trees to minimise shade and the bare patches it causes that could lead to soil erosion. Very little of this is newsworthy, but it’s essential maintenance work that would have serious consequences for flooding if we didn’t do it.
Flood defence is also frequently about our people being ready to react to the situation. Good preparation can make all the difference when we are dealing with freak weather events such as those we witnessed during Storm Christoph. A training partnership between the Environment Agency and Ground Control that began in 2020 meant more people were able to respond more quickly when the storm struck. Ground Control employees gained tremendous experience working alongside their Environment Agency colleagues during the event, which also highlighted the need for further training to boost pump operating skills. A well-drilled, reliable team is essential to shoring up our response and gives us the resources, ability and confidence to scale up when required. It’s this kind of co-operation that helps strengthen relationships, build trust and make us better able to respond to any future flood incident.
One thing, Storm Christoph has taught us, is that we need to start thinking of different ways of managing flooding. Climate change is having a massive effect on the frequency and nature of flood events and more and more properties are flooding because of it. In response, the Government awarded £2.6 billion over the last six years to protect a further 300,000 homes from flooding and has allocated 5.2 billion to such protection over the next six years.
However, we’re beginning to get to a point when it is becoming economically unpalatable to keep building our way out of the problem. This raises the question of whether we need to look at flood risk in a different way. One of the things we’re discussing is ‘climate-resilient communities’. This means those who are going to be at flood risk in future may not necessarily have a flood defence built for them by default, rather that we deploy different solutions to keep them resilient from flooding. It can take up to a year before flooded houses can be re-occupied, so the question we’re asking is can we get people back to their normal lives after a flood more quickly, accepting we cannot defend their properties?
In the longer term, tackling climate change is the thing we really need to address if we want to reduce the frequency and severity of flooding. And that means cutting our carbon footprint. The Environment Agency is aiming to cut carbon emissions by 45% by 2030, but the problem is most of the 273,000 tonnes it currently emits annually comes from the construction of flood defences, in particular from the concrete used. This presents it with a serious challenge – doubling the budget for flood prevention, building new carbon-hungry assets while at the same time almost halving its carbon emissions.
That means in future, the way we do things and what we build will change. In the short term, it means building assets with low-carbon concrete as a default, but ultimately we need to do things differently. And it’s here where we believe co-operation can really deliver significant change. Organisations such as Ground Control that have a low-carbon mindset can lead the way in the adoption of new technologies and solutions that can help larger institutions like the Environment Agency achieve their environmental targets. Indeed, the agency is increasingly relying on delivery partners such as Ground Control to share their experiences in cutting carbon emissions and adopting more low-carbon approaches. Flood mitigation will increasingly depend on such partnerships, especially in the context of a net-zero future.
For more information contact:
Kevin Maxwell PR
T: 07985 351 797