After the Deluge

“And the flood was forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bare up the ark, and it was lift up above the earth.” We seem to have had rain for more than forty days now and the Penistone area has been lucky to escape the flooding seen in York, Cumbria and nearby Kirklees, places where those words from Genesis must seem all too real. We should be asking ourselves why flooding is becoming more common and what can we do to prevent it.

One school of thought is that, allegedly due to climate change, more flooding is inevitable so we had better learn to live with it. Build houses with solid floors, waterproof plaster and move the electrics up the wall so that when it floods people can get back in more quickly. This sounds like a modern version of the houses on stilts built by the Celtic inhabitants of what is now Somerset over 2,000 years ago. Of course it might be easier not to build on flood plains in the first place!

Others say that a watercourse needs to be big enough to carry away any water which flowed into it otherwise it would overflow and inundate the surrounding land. Dredging was carried out by the Romans and Emperor Nero, when he was not fiddling, was ordering the Tiber to be dredged to improve navigation. The speed at which water flows through a watercourse is partly determined by the nature of the riverbed and Victorian engineer Robert Manning even devised a formula to calculate flow rates over different surfaces. The rougher it is and the more obstructions the slower the flow. Dredging removes weed, rubbish and shopping trolleys.

Whilst authorities used to have a duty to prevent flooding this changed with the European Water Framework Directive in 2000 which made the primary obligation to achieve ‘good ecological status’ for our rivers. What are termed ‘heavily modified waters; which includes rivers dredged to prevent flooding cannot satisfy the Directive. So dredging, which had been carried out by most civilisations over millennia, had to stop so that rivers could ‘re-connect with their flood plains.’

We cannot overlook land management in the catchment areas and should be asking if this has changed so that rainfall runs off more quickly into the watercourses rather than being absorbed then draining away at a slower rate. Then there is the tendency towards high-density building with small gardens often paved so water drains away rather than soaking into the soil.

Unless we find the answers we had better check Genesis for the specification of the Ark.

First published by the Barnsley Chronicle – Penistone Living February 2016