How floods work and the UK is so badly affected right now

For almost two months now, Britons have endured heavy rain. In the South of England, they are experiencing the worst weather in about 100 years. Entire resorts were flooded, visitors found themselves incapable of travelling. Floods have also arisen, too, and it is this that has brought about some serious questions we should be considering.

Where do floods come from

The floods in the UK are the heaviest they’ve been since they began recording it 240 years ago. The question, however, is what causes floods in the first place.

As the BBC explains:

A flood occurs when a river bursts its banks and the water spills onto the floodplain. Flooding tends to be caused by heavy rain: the faster the rainwater reaches the river channel, the more likely it is to flood. The nature of the landscape around a river will influence how quickly rainwater reaches the channel.

Thus, when there is an unseasonable amount of rain, naturally the dams are incapable of holding the water. This causes a lot of devastation, to farmlands and surrounding people. Livelihoods and homes can be lost.

Of course, we’ve become highly efficient at protecting and walling up these dams, managing to control enormous bodies of water. The fact that only now, with significant increase in rainfall, is the country facing water problems, shows that, beforehand, people were able to manage and construct proper areas of containment.

The rain itself was not unexpected, but, as Simon Parry from the CEH and co-author of a report says. “What’s been notable about it, and different from what we’ve seen in the past, is the persistence.” Thus, instead of stopping for a few hours or days, the rain has just kept coming – this means though the rain itself wasn’t unexpected, no one could’ve predicted its relentlessness.

Dredging won’t help

Many aspects of water will be affected, from whether people can access it in their houses, whether water coolers in London will be sold or stored, how to store it in future, watering and selling crops and so on. Due to these and other massive problems, a solution is needed.

Some have suggested that the dams ought to have been dredged. However, as noted environmental writer George Monbiot points out, dredging could in fact make it worse:

A river’s capacity is tiny by comparison to the catchment from which it draws its water. You can increase the flow of a river by dredging, but that is likely to cause faster and more dangerous floods downstream when the water hits the nearest urban bridge (something the residents of towns like Taunton and Bridgwater should be worried about). If you cut it off from its floodplain by turning it into a deep trench, you might raise its capacity from, say, 2% of the water moving through the catchment to 4%. You will have solved nothing while creating a host of new problems.

All of these are ways we need to consider different environmental aspects. Of course, we don’t give up in our responses to the environment. We just try do better. And as unfortunate as the situation is, we’ve improved dramatically and the reason these floods are notable is precisely because they’re an exception to our efforts of containment and responses – not the norm.