UK must adapt for weather extremes, says Environment Agency

Gnome in flood water Some river levels fluctuated between their highest and lowest levels within the space of four months

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Britain must become more resilient to both drought and flooding, Environment Agency chairman Chris Smith has said.

New figures from the agency show that one in every five days saw flooding in 2012, but one in four days saw drought.

Rivers such as the Tyne, Ouse and Tone fell to their lowest and rose to their highest flows since records began, within a four-month period of the year.

Lord Smith said urgent action was vital to help "prepare and adapt" many aspects of Britain for such extremes.

Meteorologists fear that extremes of weather may increase as global temperatures slowly rise.

Met Office analysis has suggested that the UK could experience a severe short-term drought, similar to the drought experienced in 1976, once a decade.

Transferring water

With the population of the water-stressed south-east of England projected to grow by almost a quarter by 2035, Lord Smith argued that the number of smaller reservoirs needed to be increased immediately and that new ways of transferring water from areas where it is plentiful to areas where it is scarce must be established.

Lord Smith, whose agency covers England and Wales, insisted the reservoirs would be needed not just by farmers, but also by commercial turf growers, golf clubs, sport stadiums and race courses.

There are currently about 1,700 small-scale storage reservoirs across England and Wales, supplying 30% of total irrigation needs.

He also said more homes would need to be protected from flooding.

Lord Smith said: "The extremes of weather that we saw last year highlight the urgent need to plan for a changing climate.

"In 2012 we saw environmental damage caused by rivers with significantly reduced flows, hosepipe bans affecting millions and farmers and businesses left unable to take water from rivers.

"But we also saw the wettest year on record in England, with around 8,000 homes flooded. Interestingly 2007, which saw some of the most severe flooding in recent memory, also started the year with hosepipe bans.

"More of this extreme weather will exacerbate many of the problems that we already deal with including flooding and water scarcity, so taking action today to prepare and adapt homes, businesses, agricultural practices and infrastructure is vital."

Chart showing the lows and highs of river levels
Boggy land

He pointed out that modelling suggests that a changing climate could reduce some river flows by up to 80% during the summer in the next 40 years.

Part of the UK’s flooding problem is due to previous policies.

For decades, farmers were paid to drain boggy land in order to improve it for grazing. This caused water to rush off the fields into rivers, whereas previously it would have been held in the bogs to smooth out the flow into rivers throughout the year.

In addition, many flood plains have been built on.

Follow Roger Harrabin on Twitter @rharrabin


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  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    Rivers, and their formation and flow, are entirely natural: we messed it all up by building all along their banks, just because some people wanted a nice river view. Now the water has nowhere to go except out of it's natural path.

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

    If the South East of England had not been hit with the bad weather would there be an HYS to discuss this? I seriously doubt it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 313.

    These are the same people who said last year that we were in for serious drought that year! Just looked what happened. I'm sure most of Africa would love droughts like that. They spend too much time studying computer models and forget to look out the window!
    We get freak weather! Always have, always will, the programme 'Orbit' summed it up very well, it's the way of the world, out of out control!

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    Both the University of East Anglia and NASA have stated that there has been no global warming for the last fifteen years and this has been corroborated by the IPCC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 311.

    127. albert 'How will you explain the next ice age, which is coming back in the next million years?'

    The Earth's climate has changed through the millennia, scientific evidence suggest many of the Ice Ages are due to a phenomenon known as the Milankovitch Cycles. Over whelming scientific evidence suggests the changes in the climate we are experiencing now is due to man made global warming.

  • rate this

    Comment number 310.

    Accept we must adapt

    Work days should not lost by a few inches of snow when other countries cope fine for the entire winter

    It does make us look pathetic

  • rate this

    Comment number 309.


    Yes, fixing and constructing new water infrastructure would reduce leakage for sure. Leakage can NEVER be stopped (literally impossible, I work in the water industry), but it can be reduced, yes.

    Oh by the way, as a result of the repairs and new construction YOU wanted, your water bill just doubled.

    Which, you know, I'm sure you're willing to pay...

  • rate this

    Comment number 308.

    @298 "Roadside drains blocked by rubbish thrown out of cars etc"

    Or more likely Autumn leaves, which are not being cleaned up by the company contracted to do so by the local council.
    Makes you wonder why we pay our council tax to keep the roads maintained in the first place.......

  • rate this

    Comment number 307.

    #282. farkyss

    Yes...when the last Ice Age occurred it is fair to assume that human beings had nothing to do with it. Hardly an argument for the 21st century, when man does have a major impact on the environment.

    Unless you think building massive dams, houses on flood plains, over-fishing, logging and pollution have no effect at all on anything?

  • rate this

    Comment number 306.

    can't believe mr monckton still crops up in these posts. i'm glad he does because anyone that is serious about understanding these issues will have an opportunity to see the scientific calibre of the contrarian camp. he is at best a good comedy turn (except when he's verbally accusing teenagers of being nazis for disagreeing with his bizarre world-view).

    please visit his website.

  • rate this

    Comment number 305.

    Britain will always experience highly variable weather, being situated between Siberia and the Atlantic. Extremes are nothing new. This is caused by building large numbers of houses without due regard to drought/flood risks. In the South East there is inadequate water storage capacity and ageing delivery systems, yet building continues apace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 304.

    There are so many comments on here calling the Government "dumb" or accusing them of making "Dumb decisions" on climate change developments.

    The Governments decisions are not "dumb". They are decisions based on profit maximisation which line the pockets of themselves and their developer friends.

    That is not "dumb" - that is greed and climate change is a huge money-spinner for them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 303.

    As many have stated we have marginally adverse weather from time to time.

    I think housing developments built on flood plains and in areas of high risk are a big problem, making developers pay for flood defenses of such areas might not be a bad idea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 302.

    254.Colin Bullen
    "climate scientists who deny the claims of the warmists. .."

    Richard Lindzen, - accepts warming but argues the extent
    Henrik Svensmark - arguments discredited
    Nir Shaviv. - an atrophysicist who oddly has an astrophyical answer and who's stance on CO2 meets Lindzens "nutty" criteria.

    If these are you first and best - do us a favour and save us your lesser experts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    The government will probably respond to this by closing down the environment agency.

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    We don't have any extreme weather. We just think it so because we are not even prepared for moderate weather.

  • rate this

    Comment number 299.

    "How much are all the insurance payouts going to cost,"

    Let's just make the assumption that Al Gore is correct. If you look at UN backed scientist figures own numbers you will see that the cost of dealing with results of climate change are orders of magnitude smaller than trying to stave off climate change up front.

    Lord Monckton heads up a website with many studies about this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.

    More misconceptions;
    Water can't drain because drains are blocked; may cause flash floods but over time it is because ground is saturated and water has nowhere to go
    Council / env agency should clear ditches. Most ditches are responsibilty of landowners or privately run drainage boards. Roadside drains blocked by rubbish thrown out of cars etc....time for some personal responsibilty I think

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    Entropic man

    Would they like to tell us what sort of weather is actually inconsistent with global warming?

    Weather which remains consistent in its pattern for more than 30 years, with a low frequency of extreme weather, few new records set and those showing approximately even numbers of low and high records.

    That does not describe our present situation
    Nor any other period

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    A question for Lord Smith, are rivers still dredged or is it a 'too costly' exercise?


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