Monday, 28 December 2015

Fun Online Polls: SLOPOTY & how to minimise flood damage

The results to last week's Fun Online Poll were as follows:

Sports Lack Of Personality Of The Year Award

Andy Murray - 40%

Tyson Fury - 16%
Lewis Hamilton - 10%
Mo Farah - 7%
Greg Rutherford - 6%
Lizzie Armitstead - 6%
Jessica Ennis-Hill - 5%
Chris Froome - 4%
Kevin Sinfield - 4%
Max Whitlock - 4%


Andy Murray ticked nearly all the boxes - not having any noticeable personality or having won or done anything notable this year. The only ones he failed on were we've all actually heard of him and know he plays tennis.

Runner-up Tyson Fury on the other hand, ticked none, having a cool name, taking part in an inherently controversial sport, having strong opinions, however repugnant, and actually having won something notable this year and then being promptly stripped of his title for some obscure reason.

Just goes to show.
I have no strong opinion on how to minimise flood damage and those who do take an interest have strongly diverging views:

In the green corner, George Monbiot:

Just as remarkable is the collective lack of interest in what happens when rain hits the ground. The government boasts that “we are spending £3.2 billion in flood management and defences over the course of this parliament – half a billion pounds more than in the previous parliament.” Yet almost all the money devoted to freshwater flood relief is being spent at the bottom of river catchments. This means waiting until the wall of water arrives before seeking to contain it; a perfect formula for disappointment.

A rational policy would aim to prevent the flood from gathering in the first place. It would address the problem, literally and metaphorically, upstream. A study in mid-Wales suggests that rainwater’s infiltration rate into the soil is 67 times higher under trees than under sheep pasture. Rain that percolates into the soil is released more slowly than rain that flashes over the surface. But Cumbria’s hills are almost entirely treeless, and taxpayers, through the subsidy regime, pay farmers to keep them that way.

Rivers that have been dredged and canalised to protect farmland rush the water instead into the nearest town. Engineering works of this kind were removed a few years ago from the River Liza in Ennerdale. It was allowed to braid, meander and accumulate logs and stones. When the last great storm hit Cumbria, in 2009, the Liza remained clear and fordable the following day, while other rivers roared into furious spate. The Liza’s obstructions held the water back, filtered it and released it slowly. Had all the rivers of Cumbria been rewilded in this way, there might have been no floods, then or now.

So trees and rewilding good; dredging pointless.

Speaking on behalf of Britian's agricultural landowners (three-quarters of the land by area, one or two percent by value):

Amid all the devastation and recrimination over the floods in Cumbria hardly anybody mentions one factor that may not be the sole cause, but certainly hasn’t helped. That is the almost complete cessation of dredging of our rivers since we were required to accept the European Water Framework Directive (EWF) into UK law in 2000...

It was obvious to people, who depended on the land for their living that failing to keep the rivers clear of sand and gravel would cause them to burst their banks and destroy in a few hours fertility that had taken generations to create, wash away their houses, and drown their livestock… all this changed with the creation of the Environment Agency in 1997 and when we adopted the European Water Framework Directive in 2000. No longer were the authorities charged with a duty to prevent flooding. Instead, the emphasis shifted, in an astonishing reversal of policy, to a primary obligation to achieve ‘good ecological status’ for our national rivers. This is defined as being as close as possible to ‘undisturbed natural conditions.

… they all have the same aim, entirely consonant [sic] with EU policy, to return rivers to their ‘natural healthy’ state, reversing any ‘straightening and modifying’ which was done in ‘a misguided attempt to get water off the land quicker’. They only think it ‘misguided’ because fast flowing water contained within its banks can scour out its bed and maybe wash out some rare crayfish or freshwater mussel, and that conflicts with their (and the EU’s) ideal of a ‘natural’ river.

So dredging good; trees (for which there are no subsidies) and rewilding bad.

The only thing that everybody seems to agree on is that we shouldn't allow building on flood plains, obviously, but that doesn't help people in long established towns.

I know I did a Fun Online Poll on this last year, but let's narrow it down a bit to those two contrasting points of view without an 'other' option.

(I'm always happy to blame the EU when things go wrong, but the EU is also to blame for the subsidies for clearing trees so that's a worst-of-both-worlds as per usual.)

Vote here or use the widget in the sidebar.


View from the Solent said...

there's also the EU Water Framework Directive which effectively stopped the dredging which prevented flooding in the past. See e.g.

Mark Wadsworth said...

VFTS, yes, the farmer mentioned that. Does seem a bit mad.

Lola said...

Cough Cough. In a previous life I was a Civil Engineer. (Highways actually). In the early eighties I had dealings with the Black Dyke Internal Drainage Board (among others). All the IDB's were pretty successful in managing flooding and dredging. Also as far as I can tell there has been no major land use change upstream of the flooded areas. There have though been a lot of EU bureaucratic interventions.
So, IMHO Moonbat is partially correct. You have to look at the run off thingy upstream, but you also have to manage the water courses, as we have done for centuries.
So you need a third choice. Scrap subsidies both to upland land use and to farmers, but keep the dredging and manage the rivers.
Oh, and don't forget that all the Fenland was once under water. The Great Drain is what has turned it into farmland. And what's wrong with that?

Mark Wadsworth said...

L, yes of course, that's what's called the best of both worlds common sense belt and braces approach, the point was the two opposing views cancel each other out.

Lola said...

MW. They certainly do. So I am voting none of the above in your poll.

DBC Reed said...

Although I think that Monbiot wins the argument about upstream land use in Cumbria, Lola is surely right to point out the need for dredging as well where the topography calls for it.
My belief in rewilding the landscape as Monbiot suggests is a little
tested by my experience of the Easter floods in Northampton in 1998(?),when there was no flash flooding from sheep-cropped hillsides as the area is pretty flat: the water gradually rose as the rain hammered down on Good Friday.( Mind you there is a rumour,which I started, on straight from the horse's mouth evidence, that Council Officials walked down the totally dried out bed of the Nene in the town centre early on Saturday morning).
As for Fenland from which the original alluvial soil departed on the wind years many ago, I would certainly return that to something like Norfolk Broads conditions.

Derek said...

More beavers in the uplands. More trees so they have something to make dams with. And less hill-farming subsidy so the trees have a chance to grow big enough for the beavers. That should sort it. You're welcome!

Lola said...

DBCR. AFAIAA the Norfolk broads are largely man made. Peat extraction, I think.

DBC Reed said...

I see your point but I was thinking of another artificial intervention in the landscape to return it to lakes and meres, the present artificial landscape having served its purpose and all the alluvium gone.(The last time I drove through it , the car was engulfed in dust from American-style twisters as the last of the alluvium headed off to the Netherlands.)
There is a lot of peat in the Somerset Levels which might be extracted to fund a Norfolk Broads type landscape down there instead of the country being held to ransom by the farmer bandits who demand that they are sustained in a clearly unsustainable agricultural environment.During the last floods on the Levels, they were pumping water UP from their fields into leveed rivers like the Parret.

Lola said...

@DBCR. I think that Moonbat is getting confused by his own prejudice.
Mankind has always sought to control his environment and pumping water UP into dykes has been going on for centuries - Egyptian shadufs and archemdian screws for example.
Furthermore the upland around the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District were deforested by sheep farming centuries ago.
However current sheep faming only survives on subsidy so that would be a good place to start.
As regards the Drains and waterways we must start dredging again.

Mark Wadsworth said...

DBCR, L, the point is that both are half right and probably completely wrong.

The farmer welcomes subsidies, which are partly EU driven but bemoans the EU water directive. Moonbat slags off the subsidies without mentioning that they are EU driven etc etc.

The EU is wrong on both counts of course. If you encourage deforestation then you will get more floods, in which case dredging is even more important.

Suffice to say, we can just go back to the good old ways, which provably worked.

DBC, I think you tend to get the worst floods where there are bare, steep hillsides. If you have flat, bare fields then the chances are most of the water will soak downwards. So while your Northampton example is relevant, I'm not sure it proves either point. Good job on the rumour, by the way :-)

Peter Smith said...

my lecture at flood expo this year on the subject and how rewilding, beavers and LVT can solve much of the flooding problems we face:

The issue of flooding are very complex, more than what present debates encompass. We have to look at climate and land use change. Changes in agriculture (and built up areas) but mostly agriculture have changed the way water moves through catchments. The best statistical analysis has yet to demonstrate any change in waterfall in the last 100 years in the UK (there are statistically significant changes in the last 30 years or so). But land use changes have been chiefly responsible for the increased risk of both peak and low flows in our water courses.

The fundamental issue is to use the lands ability to hold and store water efficiently to buffer peak and low flows and how it is absorbed into aquifers both in our situation today and if climate change does bring about significant changes in rainfall peaks.

This will be most efficiently achieved through rewilding of upland catchments and key flood plains using a model based on the best knowledge of both fluvial geomorphology and economics to determine where best to designate land for absorbing peak rainfall and allowing flood storage, especially before water reaches towns and cities in high risk areas.

Economics will tell us where land is poorly used but we need fiscal economic mechanisms to make this process efficient. This will be best achieved through fiscal measures such as the removal of agricultural subsidies for poor quality farmland and the tax shift to land value taxes which is proposed by leading economists.

Also to efficiently allow such a compensation and mitigation systems to work a 'Land Value Tax' should replace business rates and other taxes' this means economically important areas will increase in value, thanks to flood prevention and mitigation, allowing an increased tax take which can then fund mitigation work while at the same time reducing the taxes on poor quality land that is used for flood stores or is better able to absorb rainfall.

Land Value taxes and other pigovian taxes such as a fee charged on all water abstraction (so called tax and dividend systems) will allow an economically efficient & fair system to allow access to water cheaply for all but make water use efficient by internalising costs in overuse, farming, goods and services of its limited supply. Such a system would also fund the work of the Environment Agency without the need of over-stressing the taxpayer!

Land Value & pigovian tax shifts (e.g. taxes on CO2 commissions) will limit and mitigate climate change in themselves as they will put costs on CO2 emissions & allow wild land restoration & other extensive land use systems to sequester carbon back into soils. Removal of subsidies so land below the margin of production comes out of wasteful economic use to form rewilded catchments and restored flood plains can massively increase the lands ability to sequester carbon. My work indicates this could equal the total CO2 emissions of the UK.

All helped by the reintroduction of natures own flood plain manager the beaver!

Mark Wadsworth said...

PS, yes good summary. Add on downstream dredging and clearing drains and that's YPP policy.

Bayard said...

I hate to say this, but Moonbat is partly right. Much of the lowland flooding can be laid at the door of landowners and the EA clearing out rivers higher up their courses to prevent flooding higher up. I grew up alongside a river that used to flood regularly and I can remember my father being "advised" to clear fallen trees etc from its course (there was probably some sort of subsidy involved). Now the same river still floods, but floods that would stay there for days are gone in hours.
We never minded the flooding, because the fields that flooded were pasture and probably benefited from the flooding, but I can see that an owner of arable land would be keen to hurry the water along to be somebody else's problem downstream.

DBC Reed said...

Yesterday I got confirmation of the human error explanation (sluice not opened) of the Northampton Easter Floods of 1998 from an unimpeachable independent source: the bloke behind the counter at the car parts shop. I don't think he was reporting back my rumour (was 17 years ago).