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
    -1

    Comment number 355.

    Ultimately, this is just another example of ills caused by overpopulation and governments abject failure to grasp the problem, or abdicate responsibility for it to someone else.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 354.

    Why is the Chairman of the Environment Agency commenting on the environmental affairs of the 'UK' and 'Britain'? He should stick to his jurisdication of England & Wales. England & Wales is not Britain and the UK. In Scotland and Northern Ireland have our agencies.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 353.

    For anti global warming faction.
    Think of it as Fire Insurance, for most of you out there I'm sure you will pay for it.
    However you probably are pretty sure you are not going to have a fire, indeed the odds are highly against it considering the population vs number of properties that have fires.
    But still you buy it, Just in case !

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 352.

    325.Gannetus Maximus
    It'll be even better when the gulf stream turns off"

    We will not know what has hit us when it does.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 351.

    Stupid councils allowing building on flood plains, greedy water companies who don't invest in proper drainage, or keep the existing drains clear and ignorant house-owners or concrete/tarmac/slab over the soil that acts as a soak away. The weather has not become more extreme just the actions of people who should know better - and this has been warned about for decades.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 350.

    It seems every country is experiencing a change to its weather pattern - snow in deserts, floods, earthquakes...So, why aren't those with the power doing anything about the causes? Could it be that elites avoid these huge pockets of despair, live in ivory tours, & contmplate the number of "riff-raff" that will disappear with each weird weather pattern?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 349.

    I have a vision of a man in 2070 standing on his roof in East Anglia as the waters rise, waving his Daily Mail and shouting maniacally, "It's just a bit of weather, damn you!"

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 348.

    @336.ukblahblahblacksheep

    Well if you have any other ideas short of nuking India and China to prevent them polluting the world, let's have it. After all, if all of the EU and North America instantly stopped ALL co2 production tomorrow, 100% cut, the resultant change in global temperature by 2050 would be fractions of a degree C.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 347.

    We're going to need to do more than stop building on flood plains. More extreme weather will require changes to the detail of our everyday lives. Adaptations will occur naturally to some extent, but problems could occur when climatic changes happen more quickly than we can cope with. There is no way to prepare everyone fully and we'll need to be more mindful of vulnerable people living around us.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 346.

    Why do builders build on ffood plains ? Does money change hands ?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 345.

    Oops... i Think I left the bath tap on...

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 344.

    "BigFacedBoy
    Both the University of East Anglia and NASA have stated that there has been no global warming for the last fifteen years"

    No they haven't. See: http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/news/20130115/

    Moreover, how do you explain the continuing loss of Arctic ice (far greater than gain in parts of Antarctica), warming oceans, receding glaciers, rising sea levels & other lines of evidence?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 343.

    Climate is weather averaged over a period of 30 years or more. If those averages of climate, rainfall, frequencies of extreme events, etc. stay reasonably constant over many decades, then the climate can be described as stable.

    That is no longer the case. We have entered a period of instability.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 342.

    #312 Absolute nonsense; a quick look as the NASA Earthwatch site pshows a graph of the last tens of thousands of years, and the rate of change of Earth's temperature over this and the last century has increased dramatically. Scientific articles in the last couple of months indicate a significant increase in the rate of Arctic melting. A 25cm rise in sea level would have significant effect in UK.

  • rate this
    +13

    Comment number 341.

    Dont you get so depressed & frustrated at the lack of responsibility & responsiveness of the powers that be? This new 'announcemnt from the EA is hardly new!! For years- no decades-its been obvious & a matter of public concern that we are using too much water in the SE, etc etc & that global warming will bring extremes. As usual the Gov wil only do something when it becomes a crisis.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 340.

    110.AndrewM
    The weather is no worse, it's the way we screw up that has deteriorated

    There is no question that the weather has changed over the last few decades. The stats show the change to warmer wetter weather overall.
    And there is no question either that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and that human have generated a lot of CO2.
    The only question is the degree of effect.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 339.

    "UK 'must adapt' for weather extremes"

    ===

    You mean young people might even have to wear a waterproof hat etc. when it's throwing it down?

    Could be tricky.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 338.

    A need for a national water-grid, and other nation-wide measures seems to grow greater if these reports are true. It's a pity, because if they are, we will never be able to address them properly. This is because such all-UK action need a single, unified approach, and under the "privatisation is God" political dogma, the fragmented mess of private companies cannot do it. Hence, we all suffer a lot.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 337.

    The earth has changed and shifted since "the big bang". They don't call it Greenland for nothing, it wasn't always ice. From tropical to ice age and back again. We lived round it then and survied(as a species), now we are so arrogant we think we can divert a river and change it. Learn to adapt.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 336.

    299. farkyss

    'the cost of dealing with results of climate change are orders of magnitude smaller than trying to stave off climate change'

    I presume by 'cost' you are talking in purely financial terms and are correct in that respect. It is always cheaper to do nothing. If a bomb goes off it is probably cheaper to clean up the mess afterwards than try and stop it going off in the first place.

 

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