Tackling flooding from ground up

Updated Friday 10th January 2014

With increasing likelihood and frequency of flooding expected in Britain, what can be done to prevent the devastation? 

Flooded street in Britain Creative commons image Icon cheltenhamborough | Flickr under Creative-Commons license We have been recently inundated with news of flooding, following recent heavy rainfall and high tides in parts of the country. The devastation caused by such forces of nature is often severe, causing loss of property, infrastructure and even lives.

With increasing likelihood and frequency of flooding expected (not least due to changing climate) as well as the unrelenting use of floodplain areas for economic purpose, such incidents are not expected to go away. This is bad news and is already impacting land-use planning and even the flood insurance market (Horne & McShane (2013). Nature Climate Change 3: 945–947)

How does a flood happen?

Flood refers to overflow of surface water in a land that is normally dry. Most common way is when a water body (e.g. river, lake or dam) overspills due to excess water or severe wind moves tides inland in coastal areas. Flooding can also be a result of natural cycle e.g. in floodplains where land floods seasonally or a result of exceptional events (e.g. tsunami). Whenever possible, the Environment Agency tracks potential floods and issues warnings.

Regardless of the cause, an area gets inundated when the soils in the land either lose their ability to absorb the extra water (e.g. due to filling up) or their rate of absorption (infiltration) is overtaken with the rate of water supply.

What can be done?

Floods are not always completely avoidable but mitigations could be implemented. For example, the amount of incoming water could be controlled via engineering solutions like building barriers to stop it coming or making canals to divert the water elsewhere.

Also the speed of incoming water could be reduced by breaking slope length, or increasing roughness of the land by vegetation or physical barriers. This will impound the water and let it slowly percolate in to the soil and hence reducing surface flow. For this good soil structure i.e. soil with good infiltration would be helpful, while compacted soil wouldn’t (Soil condition blamed for flooding).

Of course, avoiding building in natural floodplains, and acting to minimise perturbation to such ecosystem services will greatly reduce flooding damage. Any interventions would require prudent integrated landscape scale management, involving all stakeholders.

Lastly, if you already are near flood-prone areas then it is best to obtain a flood insurance, as the government advises.

Take it further by:

  • Reading some facts about floods on National Geographic.
  • Trying out a free course on Environmental decision making to understand the implications our decisions have for our environment and the complex and challenging issues it is facing.
  • Studying Environmental science and develop a holistic approach encompassing the process, links, interactions and feedback machanisms that operate different environments.

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

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