Flood defences? Or flood the fences?

Floods are a problem everywhere. And the crazy weather we’ve seen in recent years has led to more people than ever seeing their lives swept away by the encroaching waters. In Britain we have seen floods coming more frequently and more heavily. Local authorities usually try to mitigate by building barriers, dykes and other kinds of physical, blocking flood defences. But that might not be the best solution.

In Norwich, the Deal Ground project is a plan to build 670 homes by the confluence of the Wensum and Yare rivers, on flood-prone land whose edge is only 45cm (18in) above sea level. Many people think the idea is crazy. But this development is looking to cope with flooding in a new way. As planning consultant Philip Atkinson says: “The levels are rising, so everyone has to understand we have to start living with the water.”

The Deal Ground development proposes “homes around marshes, squares that are designed to become ponds, and parks that become small lakes”. Instead of trying to keep the water out, the plan is to let it in, but in a more managed fashion. This is counter-intuitive, and there is vocal opposition. But the idea certainly needs serious investigation. Every year thousands of households are flooded out, causing much trauma and heartbreak. Having Mother Nature take a crap in your home is a devastating affair.

And someone is going to have to make some big decisions on this. Population rises, more housing is needed – but the amount of available land is finite. Flood-prone land is going to be developed one way or another. And putting up “flood barriers” is not a real solution. The waters rise higher every year.

We’ve got to learn how to live with the floods. I know of a group of houses that get flooded by the nearby river every year. But the people living there have learnt to adapt. There are no carpets on the ground floor, and every flood season everything is moved either upstairs or to another location. But that annual upheaval certainly isn’t for everyone. Bolder approaches have to be taken, such as the “amphibious houses” you can see in the Guardian. Not for you? Well okay, not everyone wants to live without carpets and move out all their furniture every year. But these tactics need to be tried, before we run out of other options. We need to learn to be ready for the floods.

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