Tuesday, 27 November 2012

What happens when you build on a floodplain?

You get flooded.
This is a picture of part of the railway line near Oxford, this morning, on my commute.

What we all tend to forget as the water rises, posing a risk to our homes, our possessions and our already fraught commutes, is that flooding is a natural occurrence. At the most basic level, floodplains provide somewhere for excess water to go after a period of heavy rains. River waters leave behind silt-rich soils which are excellent for agriculture, and which is why man began to build on the floodplain, despite the risks. 

The problem is that we've kept on building. According to a report by the Chartered Insurance Institute 'While new building in flood hazard areas has virtually ceased in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it has continued in England.' This means that English planning authorities are being especially short-sighted about the impacts of building on floodplains. Even flood defenses -  built to protect a town - can have an impact further up or down the river, causing flooding in areas previously unaffected, or making existing floods worse. It will, however, be the public that suffers from 1 July next year when the Government's agreement with the insurance industry for providing cover to properties at risk of flooding expires and is unlikely to be renewed. According to the Environment Agency 'Over 5 million people in England and Wales live and work in properties that are at risk of flooding from rivers or the sea' - that's a lot of people who are suddenly going to find it difficult to insure their homes against flood damage, at least without paying a premium that many won't be able to afford. 

And that's just the cost to humans. The problem with modern building materials - like tarmac and concrete - is that they don't allow for the slow draining away of flood waters into the water table, instead dumping the excess water straight into our overwhelmed sewer network, which then overflows into rivers and other water courses, creating new environmental problems such as the poisoning of fish and other creatures, or encouraging the build up of algae. 

We desperately need to find a way to build and live more in harmony with our environments, rather than trying to impose our presence at the cost of ecosystems and habitats, and ultimately, our homes and our own safety. Maybe we could start by banning any further development on floodplains?

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