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Utilities to permanently improve local infrastructure flood resilience

Places - River Calder

The utilities’ commitment was announced in Defra’s recently released National Flood Resilience Review alongside the results of improved flood risk modelling and £12.5m extra funding for new temporary defences, such as barriers and high volume pumps.

The Review said plans are already in place for electricity, water and telecoms companies to develop and implement temporary improvements in flood resilience by Christmas 2016. The utilities must obtain stockpiles of temporary defences in advance, and have ready site-specific plans for deploying them.

Meanwhile, the utilities have until the end of the year to develop and implement longer term plans for permanently improving the resilience of service provision to local communities from flooding.

These improvements could be made either by increasing the ability of the companies to reroute services, or by installing permanent defences at significant local infrastructure asset sites.

In order to estimate how many local infrastructure sites are at risk of flooding, the Environment Agency carried out new modelling to confirm the validity of its extreme flood outlines. The EFO refers to areas with a 0.1% annual probability of flooding and is given for both river and tidal flooding.

Having established EFOs are a good representation of plausible severe fluvial and tidal flooding, the EA used the modelling data to map assets within the EFO locally. The EA looked at the impact on locally significant infrastructure assets serving 10,000 people, including energy, clean water, sewerage,  roads and bridges, railways, hospitals , and fixed line telecoms assets.  The conclusion was that “a significant percentage of the assets were within the EFO” (Environment Onsite 22 June 2016

Speaking at an Environment Analyst conference in June, Tony Grayling, director of sustainable business and development at the Environment Agency cited work by the Adapation Sub-committee of the Committee on Climate Change, which has been drawing up an evidence synthesis report for the next climate change risk assessment.

This work shows that much needs to be done to protect England’s infrastructure in the event of a 2 degree Celsius rise in temperature. The ASC found 6,600 km of rail, 2,400 km of road, 300 water treatment works, 1,300 electricity generating stations,  94 hospitals  and 580 railway stations  are at a 1% annual risk of flooding. If we should see a 4 degree rise in temperature, there would be a 200% rise in the number of assets at risk of flooding.

According to the Defra’s new Review, the EFO map will also be used to test the resilience of the England’s Core Cities in order to ensure that decisions about investment after 2021 in flood defences are taken on the basis of the best possible evidence.

Defra is working with Sheffield to develop and pilot a new model of self-financing investment to bring together flood defence, aesthetic improvement and urban development.

The Review has received a mixed reception. The leader of Calderdale Council, Tim Swift, welcomed the commitment for utilities to increase flood protection for key local infrastructure, but added it isn’t clear when and how this will be enforced. “In any event, here in Calderdale we are already busy working with our utilities partners to improve things, for example, helping Northern Powergrid to improve the defences on electricity substations or relocate them completely.

“I would have liked the review to have given a national commitment to investment in flood prevention and an assurance that it will be an integral part of any new related policies, for example on farm and upland management and reservoir management.”

Swift’s reaction was echoed by Luke Strickland, an associate at engineering consultancy Ramboll, who told Environment Analyst: “While the report is clearly a welcome step forward, it is limited in its view and arguably lacks ambition. It is important to strike a balance between implementing major catchment management scheme and strengthening existing solutions to protect against the next flooding event, but too much of the focus is on short term fixes, rather than long term aims.  

“There is perhaps an over-emphasis on temporary and permanent defences and not enough focus on adaptation and resilience.  Recent events have shown that even the shiniest new defences can be breached. There is always a bigger storm around the corner and we can’t just keep building higher walls.”

However, Jon Robinson, director of water at AECOM, said: ‘Encouragingly, the Review includes a commitment to an integrated, cross-sector approach to protecting critical infrastructure through closer collaboration between water, telecoms and power companies. This will help develop longer term, permanent improvements in the resilience of service provision to communities in the event of extreme flooding.

“The Review paves the way for a new approach to flood risk management. Ultimately, a more holistic approach that brings together multiple stakeholders working together across entire catchments is needed. While the Review rightly advocates a strategic, long-term approach to flood management, our hope is that funding too will increase in real terms in recognition of its importance."

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