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Accepting Flood Risk

Flooding happens for various reasons with flood risk coming from a number of sources. However, flood risk isn’t always well understood which may lead to some people being unwilling to accept their risk or not believing it. How can this be changed?

Multiple sources of flooding

Rivers and the sea

River flooding is probably the most well-known type of flooding. The media often shows photos of flooded towns and villages and the impacts of these floods are devastating to communities. River flooding tends to affect large numbers at a time so if you live near a river, you are likely to acknowledge that flooding could happen at some time.

Whilst river flooding can affect people in towns and villages across the country, coastal flooding affects those living by the coast or slightly inland where rivers and estuaries leading to the sea are situated close to properties.

The Environment Agency (EA) have many monitoring stations on rivers, streams, culverts, the sea and more, which measure rising watercourse levels and are used as triggers to warn of possible flooding. This monitoring makes it easier for risk management authorities to communicate flood risks simply to the public, with evidence from a reliable source. Take a look at the EA’s monitoring stations here: https://flood-warning-information.service.gov.uk/river-and-sea-levels.

Some community flood groups raise money or receive funding to install monitoring systems to local watercourses that cause flooding; these aren’t monitored by the EA but help to give the community a warning. See more information about funding on The Flood Hub website here.

Surface water

Surface water flooding is also a major contributor to the overall picture of flooding that occurs across the UK. There isn’t a reliable way to monitor surface water flooding in real time as it is very unpredictable and differs with each rainfall event, possibly more so than river flooding does. Some people who have lived in properties for many years can suddenly be impacted by surface water and this could be due to:

  • Changes of land use nearby which increases runoff rates e.g. new developments, tarmacking driveways.
  • Blockages in drainage systems.
  • A sudden cloud burst over a small area where rainfall exceeds the drainage capacity.

In many cases it is a combination of the above that result in an area flooding.

As it cannot easily be monitored or measured, it’s harder for risk management authorities to communicate exactly how surface water flooding affects us. However, you can take a look at your risk of flooding from surface water (as well as from rivers and reservoirs) on the EA maps here: https://flood-warning-information.service.gov.uk/long-term-flood-risk.

Sewers and drainage

Although the capacity of sewers to hold rainwater in one area could be calculated from the size and length of the sewers, other factors are constantly changing which would make these calculations unreliable. New buildings and housing estates add to the amount of water and sewage entering the system, and blockages occur from people flushing things down the toilet or pouring things down the drain that don’t belong there. Did you know that approximately 300,000 sewer blockages occur each year! Old infrastructure may cause sewers or culverts to collapse and cause blockages this way. So, it would be tricky to monitor exactly how much rainwater could be held by sewers during storms!

Groundwater

The Environment Agency monitor some groundwater levels, and in some areas that have historically experienced groundwater flooding, they provide a groundwater alert or warning service. However, this is less common than river and sea monitoring and there are no risk maps for groundwater, making it harder for people to understand or believe their flood risk from this source. To find out more about your groundwater flooding risk, contact your Lead Local Flood Authority or the EA.

Believing flood risk

So why doesn’t everyone understand the risk they are faced with, or more importantly, why do some people not believe that it’s real?

It can be overwhelming to look at all the facts, figures and maps and understand why exactly your house or business is at risk of flooding, where the water comes from, and how serious the risk is. Taking some time to browse through flood risk maps and understand what each type of flood warning means will help to make the picture clearer for you.

Even when flood risk is understood, it’s not always believed. When our flood team has been out engaging with communities across the North West in the past, we’ve heard lots of reasons for why people don’t believe they are at risk of flooding!

  • “It hasn’t flooded here for the past 50 years”
  • “The water never reaches our house when the river floods”

Whilst these statements might be true for certain people, what has happened in the past doesn’t always stay the same in the future. For many towns and villages that have flooded in recent years, residents had never experienced flooding there before in their lifetimes. With climate change altering the way that weather affects us and causing extreme weather events to happen more often, people may have to open their minds to the reality that in the future, anything could happen!

If more people believe in their flood risk, it will mean that they will become more prepared for future flooding events and will hopefully see less damage done to their properties than might have happened with no preparations in place. Preparing for flooding can be as simple as writing down some points on a flood plan! Find more information on preparing for flooding here.

To understand some of the complexities surrounding flood risk, why not take a look at one of our previous blogs which helps to explain return periods and discusses ways to better express risk here.

You can encourage others to take their flood risk seriously by:

Advising people to check their flood risk

There are approximately 2.5 million properties at risk of flooding from rivers or the sea and a further 2.8 million properties are susceptible to surface water flooding alone. You can check your risk of flooding from rivers, sea, surface water and reservoirs, and sign up to flood warnings here: https://www.gov.uk/check-flood-risk.

Taking advice from risk management authorities

Risk management authorities fuel lots of resources into researching and monitoring flood risk in order to develop flood schemes to reduce the risk of flooding to communities. It goes without saying that the public should listen to the advice and facts that these professionals give out in order to understand their risk and stay safe.

Starting a community flood group

This is a great way to increase a community’s resilience to flooding through creating an emergency plan. These groups can also be utilised to spread the message of flood risk to the wider community through word of mouth, letter drops and group meetings.

Sharing useful websites and links on social media

One example is The Flood Hub which contains lots of advice, resources and flooding information specific to communities across North West England: www.thefloodhub.co.uk. Facebook is also a great way for community flood groups to share information to the wider community and can be used for announcements and discussions.

Useful downloads:

Sources: Water.org, GOV.UK

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