Surviving nature

By | Science & Technology
Photo: © NASA/Corbis

Additional Reporting by Samir Jeraj

Environmentalists, academics and technologists are learning how to measure the elements and looking to become the architects of new infrastructures that may help weather the storms ahead. The Environment Agency has addressed concern by devising protection to 182,000 properties in the past three years. However, as recent events have shown – 1,800 homes flooded last month — there’s plenty more work to be done.

Soliciting innovation may be key. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) now makes £2m per year available in grants to any public or private organisation that might provide practical solutions to flood infiltration. Technological inventions appear to offer the most protection to properties and land.

Flood gates, inflatable sandbags and Rapidams (sausage-like membrane) may be quickly deployed to keep out water across a wide area. The Rapidam, like all new flood defence inventions, was kite-marked by the BSI (British Standards Institute) at its Hydraulics Research Station at HR Wallingford.

This year, DEFRA spent £664 million on flood prevention for 5.2 million susceptible homes, in areas such as Nottingham — whose last flood protection was built in 1947. The Nottingham Left Bank flood scheme, unveiled in September, protects 16,000 homes on the river’s north bank on a 27km stretch of the River Trent through the rebuilding of 1.8km of flood embankment.

The Dutch appear to have come up with creative solutions, such as urban ‘water gardens,’ which are playgrounds that double as water containers during emergencies. Similarly, there are reservoirs of extra capacity in metropolitan sewers that deal with the additional influx of water that needs to be stored.

However, infrastructure improvements are only the first step. Various agencies, such as engineering firms, academic, technology firms and emergency services, also need to coordinate more effectively. To this end, IBM has devised a series of programmes to harmonise their efforts.

“We use serious gaming technology to improve the way that organisations work together,” says Havers.

Super-computers may be used to calculate the knock-on effects of floods. For example, when Thailand was flooded, most of the world’s hard disk manufacturers (which are located in the region) were taken out. This had a massive knock-on effect on the rest of the world’s industries: disk prices rose, creating casualties further down the supply chain. Such global impacts might now be computed prior to an extreme weather incident.

Flood control architecture has been put in place too. “Many people have specialised skills. We bring all these silos of talent together so they can work together on forecasting models, planning processes and optimisation,” says Havers. This sort of spatial planning, infrastructure building and organisational fine-tuning might also be invaluable to UK efforts to weather the superstorms of the future.

Thames barrier London

Photo of the Thames Barrier © Image Source/Corbis

London versus the superstorms

The Environment Agency is now working on helping businesses, local government and public services prepare and adapt to extreme weather. In London, a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy is in place with 34 actions listed to make the city more resilient to weather conditions.

Green Party Member of the London Assembly Jenny Jones has been pushing the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson to take further action. She tells The Positive: “The Mayor of London [aims to] speed up the restoration of the London rivers that have been confined to narrow concrete walls, or covered in channels. Opening them up and creating natural flood plains will slow down and hold flood water from spilling over into streets and properties.”

Jones adds that planning rules may be changed as well: “The Mayor of London [might] also help slow the trend of people paving over front gardens, and developers building car parks, as these concrete surfaces [far from] allow rainfall to absorb through into the soil.”

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