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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  • Comment number 715.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 714.

    The IPCC states that 'global warming does not create unusual weather events nor weather extremes.' So how does that fit with the EA statement?
    They should get on with correcting their own wrongful approach of 'flood protection' and do some 'flood prevention' instead. Correct the cause and not the sympton by letting water flow out to the sea as it used to do freely but is now being restricted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 713.

    All I can say Chris Smith having realised what we all know, that we have weather in the UK get on with doing something!Why is it always a topic of conversation, because we rarely know what it will do.Nothing concrete gets done to even out variability.Lots of countries store water properly to use over dry periods.

    More effort to move business out from London area is essential and curb population.

  • rate this

    Comment number 712.

    You do not need to be a top scientist to know it is unproven..."
    You don't have to ridicule it like people used to about evolution because it is a new science. Or try and link it to tax that people hate like religious people used to say evolution was the work of the devil.
    I like to be more open minded and look at the facts

  • rate this

    Comment number 711.

    Climate change is here and now. Britain's CO2 output is minor compared to the output from China. So we should put more effort into coping with climate change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 710.


    You do not need to be a top scientist to know it is unproven. Nor google a couple of big words, but to answer your question, carbonic acid or dihydrogen carbonate, is by definition, a very weak acid, ph barely effect by concentrates required to lose the required amount of co2

  • rate this

    Comment number 709.

    As these extreme events are going to happen shouldn't we develop some way of collecting and storing water in time of flood so we do not suffer drought. it may cost a lot of money but doing nothing will cost even more in the long run!!!

  • Comment number 708.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 707.

    698, billy, nope, gravity exists, whilst climate change is unproven at best"

    Sorry I didn't realize you were a top scientist, so what effect do you say this huge increase in CO2 will have, do you think it will be negated by the albedo effect of contrails? if so by what amount? Will the oceans absorb most of the CO2, how will this effect the PH?

  • rate this

    Comment number 706.

    Dump the car.

    You are welcome to your view, but those of us still capable of rational independent thought, will remain sceptical. Despite lots of statistics being thrown around, nobody has actually proven CC exists, weather fluctuates, always has done, always will. But getting back to the original debate, we as a nation do not have extreme weather, merely a tad hotter or colder than normal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 705.

    Having mentioned harsh weather giving UK problems that are easy to overcome if the willingness were there, it should be remembered that some events are truly EXTREME.

    In these true cases of EXTREME weather, humans can only do their best to mitigate damages to life and property. Weather is bigger than us - as is the universe, asteroids and meteors.

    If we are not already, we should get prepared.

  • rate this

    Comment number 704.

    One has to ask, what on earth is the climate going to change into., a nice little pink number.

  • Comment number 703.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 702.

    697.Drunken Hobo

    680 ThePhysicistRidesAgain - No, I'm not saying that. It was claimed that because CO2 doesn't generate energy, it can't keep in heat. If that were true, duvets wouldn't work, as they don't generate energy (apart from DUMPTHECAR's).

    OK, thanks. I had literally and metaphorically lost the thread of the exchange between you and Dumpthecar.

  • rate this

    Comment number 701.

    698, billy, nope, gravity exists, whilst climate change is unproven at best

    697, most real scientist do not believe in climate change

  • rate this

    Comment number 700.

    Extreme weather?

    One inch of snow stops UK traffic dead.
    Leaves on railway lines causes massive disruption.
    Hundreds of road pot-hole everywhere even before the winter set in.

    Lack of any awareness of how other countries survive harsh weather prevents any planning in the UK. UK uses cost as barrier to prevention that other countries simply apply.

    If we can not do harsh - Extreme is off scale.

  • rate this

    Comment number 699.

    The weather has been awful in this country as far back as I remember.

  • rate this

    Comment number 698.

    Billy, no they are not, when governments use false information to raise taxes, it becomes one. But whilst gullible soles believe the unproved rantings of a few, the rest of us will have to pay for it."
    So if the government starts taxing us on our weight you will claim gravity is a tax issue believed in by the gullible! Interesting logic

  • rate this

    Comment number 697.

    680 ThePhysicistRidesAgain - No, I'm not saying that. It was claimed that because CO2 doesn't generate energy, it can't keep in heat. If that were true, duvets wouldn't work, as they don't generate energy (apart from DUMPTHECAR's).

    684 Psycho-Si - Ah, so it's all a conspiracy. Then why does the science make sense to most scientists? Is the whole of science in on it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 696.

    Don't just blame the Government. We all have a carbon footprint, whether Size 4 or Size 10. We all contribute to climate change; by the personal choices we make, the greater or lesser that contribution will be. We all must take personal responsibility for this...


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