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Water management that manages both flooding and drought

April 2016

The recent flooding events were devastating. But it does feel that we might be on the cusp of a new approach to flood management that works with nature rather than against it. In doing so we can achieve better flood management as well as help other environmental problems – like our water quality and the decline of our wildlife. Now that really is cost effective.

Natural water management uses natural processes to encourage water to infiltrate into the ground, slow down flows and store water. This approach can also result in better habitats for wildlife and spaces for people capable of improving water quality, storing carbon, regulating temperatures, and improving the well-being and health of local people.

[caption id="attachment_521" align="alignright" width="300"]Houses next to a SuDS development (image credit: Ed Waldron, WWT) Houses next to a SuDS development (image credit: Ed Waldron, WWT)[/caption]

There will always be the need for direct engineered solutions to protect properties and some communities, but given climate and weather patterns this may not be enough. We cannot continuously build higher and longer flood walls. Natural flood management applied at every point in the catchment – in upland areas, in lowland floodplains and in our towns and cities as blue green corridors - can reduce flows to a point where engineering solutions can cope better. They could also give hope to many property owners and communities where hard defences don’t stack up commercially or are unwanted.

What this all adds up to is a wider, long term solution – a water management system at a catchment scale that manages both flooding and drought.

We may not have all the answers yet, but we can be confident that a broader roll out and scaled up approach to natural flood management is possible and beneficial with the required monitoring and feedback in place to refine techniques. We do need to put in place a number of things. Firstly better coordination to ensure that flood management considers multiple benefits from the outset and during cost benefit analysis. We need to understand the opportunities across catchments and find funding mechanisms that reward and support landowners for the natural services they provide and encourage development and retrofit of blue-green spaces.

Parliament's Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee of MPs is currently running an inquiry into future flooding. We urge them to recommend to Government an ambitious approach to future flood management that can help deliver catchment scale, long term, cost-effective and multi-benefit flood management schemes.

Kevin Peberdy, Assistant CEO at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust

Blog post by Kevin Peberdy, Assistant CEO at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust

The opinions expressed in this post are the author’s.