Batten down the hatches
"Flooding is in the news, Somerset and the Thames Valley in particular have experienced the worst flooding in living memory, and it’s been the wettest January on record."
It’s getting wetter
Flooding is in the news, Somerset and the Thames Valley in particular have experienced the worst flooding in living memory, and it’s been the wettest January on record. Southern regions have had approximately 260% of the Long Term Average Rainfall according to the Environment Agency – a margin of between 60-100mm in areas. This also follows the wettest Autumn on record in 2013, which in turn followed the previous wettest autumn on record in 2012. River flows in the south are the highest they have been for a century. Whilst the long term trends and impacts are hotly debated, known by some as “Global Weirding”; what is generally agreed is that the weather is becoming more unpredictable.
The best place to build a house
In times past, before land was drained for agriculture, it was known where land flooded and houses were built to avoid the flood waters, or constructed in such a way that either they would resist the water or allowed to flood in a controlled manner. Since land has been drained by human intervention, areas previously flooded have been built upon in the comfort that infrastructure such as ditches and dykes will take away water fast enough to keep the land drained and properties dry. A combination of high concentration of rainfall, high tides limiting river outfall and the reduction in river and waterway maintenance has resulted in the failure of waterways to carry away water from floodplains. Man-made safe havens for building homes and settlements have been overwhelmed. The infrastructure put in place to drain the land is becoming ineffective and the land is returning to it’s natural state where it floods periodically.
What can be done?
News reporting and campaigns from affected areas call for improved maintenance to ditches, dykes and rivers. This includes dredging and clearing of vegetation which dams waterways at peak flows. This will not resolve the matter entirely, but it must help. The Environment Agency over the last 10 years has wound down it’s dredging and weed cutting programmes across the country which will inevitably reduce waterway capacity. The debate is whether this is primarily for cost control or on environmental grounds. Controlled flooding of land creates wetland habitat and is desirable from a conservation perspective, but reduces the ability to control waterways and manage water levels, which has been managed throughout river catchments for hundreds of years. Human intervention has created the ability to build on flood plains and it follows that the infrastructure created needs to be maintained, or risk a return to flooding of river valleys and the properties built upon them.
What owners must do
Having created a network of watercourses to drain land to enable it to be built upon, this needs to be maintained – they are there for a reason. Whilst much of this falls to central agencies, all property owners must protect their own properties and those around them. The Land Drainage Act provides regulation on the responsibilities of those responsible for watercourses. Broadly, you must not allow water from your land to cause flooding to other property. Also, you must not block a water course, allowing properties upstream to flood. Waterways, be they ditches, streams or rivers must be kept clear to enable the proper channelling of water away from your property into a water course. Similarly, it prevents a back-log of water which might flood upstream. It is worth checking the maintenance responsibility of a watercourse through or adjacent to your property. Maintenance of water courses is far simpler before being full of flood water.
The proper checks
The legal searches when buying a property should identify whether a property is in an area liable to flood and many insurers will not provide cover if it is, which often makes obtaining a mortgage difficult. There are however, specialist insurers that provide cover for properties susceptible to flooding. If you own a property which is vulnerable, there are measures that can be taken to help prevent damage.
Protecting your property
Cellars and low level floors can be ‘tanked’ to avoid water ingress and if necessary, a sump pump installed, to remove any water within the building. Careful landscaping around a property can divert flowing run-off water and surface water, without looking too municipal. For particularly vulnerable properties, flood barriers can be fitted to doorways and windows to stop or slow water from entering into the property. Usually a combination of these measures would need to be taken simultaneously. The risk of flooding is not purely at ground level. Missing roof tiles and poorly fitting flashings can allow water to pass through, especially during high winds and rain. Periodically, window and door frames should be repainted as well as resealed and pointing repaired on brickwork. Clearly, flooding on the scale seen in some areas this winter is difficult to stop, but preparation and maintenance can go a long way to prevent the effects of water on a property.