Nov 20–26 is Flood Action Week. In the South-East of England, and also in the north of France, there has been excessive rain for nearly four weeks. The picture of the floods in some towns and roads in northern France indicates that ‘inundation’ has been worse than here in England. On 14 November President Macron visited St Omer to speak to leaders about the damage. Some 214 communs have been affected in the Pas-de-Calais region, which has a population of 1.5 million, compared to the 1.8 m population of Kent.
Flood risk in England
In England, county councils have the responsibility for managing flood risk. In their monthly communications, Kent County Council (KCC) in November included advice on flooding. It has four sections:
- Be prepared
- If flooding happens
- After a flood
- Flooding contacts
In looking at the latter, I note an impressive list of helpful agencies, most of them public. You can get flood alerts from the Environment Agency. You can contact the highway gritting service. You can find out about the weather from the BBC. There is information for travellers, neatly divided into road, train, and the Channel.
The one set of contacts totally absent is the water companies. But we all know that what is most likely to happen is that the sewers get overwhelmed and it is the water companies, specifically Southern, that have to send out the teams to fix it. What do they say about this?
“As a wastewater company, we’re not responsible for investigating groundwater, river flooding or surface water problems. This is the role of other agencies. It’s our responsibility to ensure our customers can continue to use their wastewater services. Our priority is to keep our sewers flowing and manage the flows they are built to carry, such as waste from toilets, sinks, showers and washing machines, as well as rainwater from roofs and driveways.”
So why doesn’t the KCC website mention this role? Are we so embarrassed by the current reputation of the water companies for exuding shit that they do not deserve a mention for their onerous role, in sending out teams in often shocking weather to clear blocked drains or deal with burst old sewers?
Perhaps someone told the KCC communications team that they were to mention only the public services and not the privatised water companies.
Climate change to blame
The KCC notice also has an excellent link to a video which explains SUDS – sustainable underground drainage systems (which are, be it known, the responsibility of the local planning authorities, combined with the local water company). It shows in graphic form how modern buildings, roads and pavements can disrupt natural rainwater drainage, and cause flooding. So, SUDS regulation has to restore adequate drainage often by preserving or planting trees in urban areas, or little strips of planting and grass that soak up excess rain. As I gaze at the flood pictures from our neighbours across the Channel, I can’t help wondering what their SUDS regulation is.
They are putting the blame on climate change. The UK government too, through the Environment Agency, is also publishing some impressive facts about the record-breaking rain this October. But we have also observed, in some recent planning decisions, that the old calculation about the likelihood of ‘one in a hundred years’ storms is being altered. Our engineers are realistic about this island getting rainier months, and the need to take account of this when planning drainage.
While flicking through the internet on the subject of floods, I noted there are some horrific pictures of what happens when a car is submerged. The occupants cannot push open the door because of the water pressure. Nor can they open windows because the electronic system will be damaged by the water. Nor can the glass be smashed, even with a hammer, because the accident-proof glass in modern cars is designed to withstand such blows. The solution is (to give as a Christmas present) the Hammerdex, a tool designed to cut through that resistant glass, and the seat belt, and thus allow everyone to float to the surface.
So, what’s the take-home message? We can’t stop the rain, but we can be prepared with good regulations, engineers, tools, and the right clothes for the weather, of course.