UK Environment Agency : plan for more extreme weather

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by Tim Willmott : Be the first to leave a comment

Environment Agency News 4th March 2013

Britain must act now to deal with more extreme weather

Britain should improve water supply for business and farming in the face of more frequent floods and droughts, Environment Agency Chairman Lord Chris Smith said today.

New figures published today by the Environment Agency show that one in every five days saw flooding in 2012, but one in four days were in drought, including hosepipe bans affecting over 20 million people. Rivers such as the Tyne, Ouse and Tone went from their lowest to their highest flows since records began, all in the space of four months.

In 2012 Environment Agency flood defences protected 200,000 homes and businesses and over 6,000 flood warnings and alerts were issued.

A drought every ten years

New Met Office analysis suggests that the UK could experience a severe short term drought, like the one experienced in 1976,every ten years, and with the population in London and the already water-stressed south east of England set to grow by 23 per cent by 2035, the time to act is now.

Water storage reservoirs are one of the options for securing a more reliable water supply for irrigation, mainly used by farmers, but also commercial turf growers, golf clubs, sport stadiums and race courses. There are around 1,700 small-scale storage reservoirs across England and Wales, supplying 30 per cent of total irrigation needs. This will need to increase to help improve the resilience to future dry periods.

Urgent need to plan for climate change

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.”

Pressures on water availability

Pressures on water availability, including extreme weather eventsgrowing demand and historic over abstraction are already affecting the availability of water supplies for irrigation. Businesses that rely on water from rivers have been unable to abstract water in the summer.

Modelling suggests that a changing climate could reduce some river flows by up to 80 per cent during the summer in the next 40 years – increasing the challenge of ensuring there is enough water for people, business, farmers and the environment.

Businesses urged to take action

Water companies, farmers and other businesses are being urged to look at ways to improve water storage, and reduce and share the amount of water they use.

The Environment Agency is at the forefront of efforts to increase the country’s resilience to flooding and water scarcity. During the 2012 drought the Environment Agency granted drought permits to five water companies to ensure that 16.5 million people continued to have water.

Flood defences opened by the Environment Agency last year include Nottingham, protecting 16,000 properties, Keswick, protecting nearly 200 properties and Banbury, protecting over 500 properties in the next few years. More than 64,000 more homes will be better protected from the devastating effects of flooding as 93 new flood defences have been given the green light to start construction this year.

The Environment Agency’s ‘Climate Ready’ Service offers practical advice to businesses, farmers and councils to help them be better prepared to deal with extreme weather like floods and drought.

Facts and Figures on extreme weather in 2012

  • 7,950 properties flooded
  • 78 days of 2012 saw flooding (1 in 5)
  • 95 days were officially in drought (1 in 4)
  • A hosepipe ban affected over 20 million people

Record breakers

  • Daily river flows across England and Wales as a whole reached record levels on 48 days last year – the highest since records began over 50 years ago (National River Flow Archive)
  • Haydon Bridge gauging station on the South Tyne near Newcastle has gone from the lowest mean monthly flows on record for the time of year in March 2012 of 6.35 m3/sec (which is 27% of the March long term average (LTA)) to the highest mean monthly flows on record for the time of year in June 2012 of 34.1 m3/sec (which is 399% of the June LTA).
  • Gold Bridge gauging station on the Ouse in East Sussex has gone from the lowest mean monthly flows on record for the time of year in March 2012 of 0.804 m3/sec (which is 28% of the March LTA) to the highest mean monthly flows on record for the time of year in July 2012 of 2.820 m3/sec (which is 310% of the July LTA).

Advice for businesses, farmers and councils

Climate Ready provides tools and information to help businesses and other organisations live with the changing climate, now and in the future

Reference

Shorter droughts – up to 18 months – may become more frequent by 2100, with a drought like 1976 perhaps occurring on average every 10 years by the end of the century, compared with a current frequency of perhaps 1 in 50 to 1 in 100 – Burke et al 2010. An extreme value analysis of UK drought and projections of change in the future. Journal of Hydrology doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2010.04.035 (Met Office)

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