Local knowledge crucial to minimising future flood risk and manage water levels

“The first priority is to ensure embankments are resilient to avoid dangerous breaches, and local IDBs are best placed to identify any concerns within their own drainage district, due to local knowledge and surveying or risk areas,” continues Mr Thomson.

“When water does overtop embankments, it is essential to have the infrastructure in place, with well-managed and maintained sluices and pumping stations to divert water and relieve pressure.”

Mr Thomson flagged up the recent £1.8 million sea defence project at Wrangle Banks, on the Lincolnshire coast north of Boston, funded by Defra, with European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) support via Lincolnshire County Council. Here sea defences were raised and re-profiled to increase their resilience in an area of the Wash shoreline previously viewed as potentially catastrophic.

Devastating flood damage caused by sudden bank breaches can be minimised by tapping into local knowledge and resources, while also helping to manage water levels and create availability during times of drought, says a major risk management authority.

“Climate change is a reality, and we have to accept that with more extreme weather conditions, there will be increased frequencies of river bank overtopping,” explains Innes Thomson, Chief Executive of ADA (Association of Drainage Authorities), the organisation representing drainage, water level and flood risk management authorities in the UK.

“It’s all about resilience, and we must ensure embankments can withstand overtopping without failing,” adds Mr Thomson. “The local knowledge of public bodies such as Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs), alongside others including the local Environment Agency offices, Local Authorities, Parish Councils, is key to providing a local service in managing water where it really matters, to the people and the environment,” Mr Thomson adds.

Citing the example of the sudden bank failure on the Steeping River in June, causing flooding devastation to the Lincolnshire village and community of Wainfleet, ADA warns that it is essential that when water does breach embankments, the infrastructure is in place to get rid of that water.

Headed up by Witham Fourth District IDB (W4IDB) as the lead risk management authority, this partnership project protects 3,400 hectares of prime grade one farmland and 460 domestic and industrial properties.

The project involved re-profiling the sea banks and raising them to over 7 metres high, with a slope leading to a soke dyke to cope with future over- topping. The project created a maintenance strip behind the bank and larger soke dykes. During high tides, these accommodate the water that permeates up through the ground and during heavy rainfall, they enable surplus water to flow to the W4IDB managed pumping stations.

This is a prime example of a co-ordinated effort, and highlights the importance of landowners and communities working together with local risk management authorities.

One example where working together brings obvious benefits, is in balancing environmental and habitat demands with the need to manage water level and flood risk requirements. Burrowing animals, for example, can have a significant impact on the resilience of a flood embankment, and this needs to be carefully managed. It is essential, therefore, that IDBs and other risk management authorities work closely with the Environment Agency and Natural England to address problems with the right balance.

While the lasting memories for many of the viewing public, watching coverage of the devastating Wainfleet flooding, may well be the two RAF Chinooks and a Puma helicopter dropping 342 one tonne bags of aggregate to plug the breach, what was going on behind the scenes was more engaging for the local communities.


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