With the extreme winter weather and ongoing flooding events continuing to dominate media schedules across the UK, measures must now be taken to minimise and prevent such scenes of devastation occurring in the future.
Here, Simon Thomas, managing director of water management solutions company, Asset International, explains why innovative solutions, both natural and engineered, are the route to protective work required to safeguard the most vulnerable communities across the UK.
The devastating and lasting effects of the recent floods which occurred in December and January will still be apparent in the worst affected areas, as the mop-up of the destruction caused to several key communities continues.
The indiscriminate damage to people's homes and livelihoods comes at a high price and the impact on businesses, and subsequently on the economy as a whole, is also devastating; leading to crippling financial implications for many people.
During the recent UK flooding events, existing waterways and drainage systems (both natural and engineered) were overwhelmed, events that might even be classed as an environmental disaster, although it has been noted that no central government aid has been pledged for the massive clean up operation. This, of course, means that the onus falls on local authorities and water companies to help rebuild communities and repair infrastructure across the country. Ultimately that means funding from tax revenues and via potential increases to water bills.
However as we watch the clean up continue, yet again we must ask what lessons can be learned, and preventative measures taken, to protect our country's most vulnerable flood prone areas.
Despite the damning headlines key players in the water industry have and continue to make real progress in the attempt to maintain and improve existing water infrastructure, with flood alleviation projects at the very top of the agenda. This is somewhat governed by the implementation of the capital investment programme or 'Asset Management Plan,' known as AMP and laid out by the industry's regulatory body, OFWAT. The AMP programme runs in five-year cycles, and currently we are nearing the end of AMP 5, 2010-2015, which will then be followed by AMP 6. OFWAT monitors the water companies efficiency in a huge range of categories such as the capability of the network and environmental non-compliances etc, which then determines whether or not the company is allowed to increase their charges. Moreover, how a company performed in AMP 5 will affect their budget in AMP 6 and so on.
To support this work, OFWAT place a requirement on water companies, to log residences which face flooding more than three times in a ten-year time frame to place them onto an official register - the DG5 At-Risk Register - to monitor the level of risk, and take the necessary action. However, despite a number of flooding catastrophes in recent years this register remains relatively unknown, even to this day.
While flood alleviation schemes and the register will aim to alleviate the extra strain on infrastructure, we must also explore more innovative materials and options if we are to create solutions that work and last.
As we build more and more new homes we are placing even more demands on an already saturated water infrastructure. What's more, with plans to develop on flood plains and green field sites in response to the ever-increasing consumer demand for homes, better management of urban drainage and flooding is no longer a choice, but now a necessity.
This of course comes with huge cost implications to water companies and local authorities and so many are looking to implement what are regarded as cheaper anti-flooding measures that mimic natural processes (non-engineered if you will), thus reducing or slowing down the amount of water reaching the man made systems (eg - modular construction storm water attenuation tanks and water courses). These 'sustainable urban drainage systems' or SUDS as they are better known, include 'green' roofs and permeable paving which allows water through to the soil below, retention ponds and swales. Whilst no one is denying the need for more natural solutions it must be realised, especially given recent flooding events, that they have a place alongside engineered water management systems as a drainage aid, particularly in high risk areas, but not as an all encompassing replacement for engineering. After all, when the ground is saturated, the water still has to go somewhere. The recent article on The Telegraph website offers an interesting insight to the topic of SUDS as a whole.
With regards to engineering we have come a long way since the Greeks first explored water infrastructure in 800BC and while concrete pipes and materials have built a strong reputation in the industry over the centuries, today other materials are competing with this more traditional method of managing water, which are far more able to meet the increasing demands of 21st century living.
With mounting pressure on water companies and contractors to deliver projects within short timeframes and demonstrate efficiency, innovative water management solutions are providing additional benefits to help with time and cost savings.
During the last decade the emergence of plastic solutions has caused quite a stir in a very traditional industry and now most UK water companies have made the switch from traditional concrete materials to plastic, as they are increasingly seeing the benefits of using this flexible, lightweight and durable solution for water management.
While many innovative solutions can be explored and in fact utilised with a view to building sustainable communities, we cannot disregard the role modern day life has and will continue to play in the future of our infrastructure and landscape. As land continues to be developed and extreme flooding events become the norm rather than the exception, the need to protect local communities and businesses from this type of devastation becomes even more urgent. However, urgency should not be an excuse for panic measures that do not deliver satisfactory and adequate flood management protocols that are waiting to serve and protect.