With extensive and destructive floods becoming more common and more damaging every year, pressure is increasing on the government to do something to protect people’s homes and livelihoods.
The effects of climate change are apparent in the flooding across Europe, and Denmark even saw the implementation of a new EU Flood Directive (2007/60/EC), highlighting the struggle currently embroiling the Danish authorities with regards to their increasingly disastrous floods.
In other places across Europe, a number of municipalities and utility companies are working together on a small scale to protect areas from the worst of the flooding, since they are already responsible for the care and upkeep of drainage and sewage systems, so they already have many of the tools and capabilities needed to divert flooding.
The plans currently being put in place, especially in the UK and Ireland, include limiting the amount of surface water that can enter drainage systems, diverting surface water during very heavy rain to areas where it will cause minimal damage (such as parks and unused land) and using existing urban infrastructure (like roads) as emergency channels for surface floods.
However, no utility company can handle the strain of expanding an entire sewer system to the point that it could handle all the floodwater from the surface, so they have been forced to put pressure on municipalities to regulate a landowner’s right to put water into the sewer system more strictly.
In Denmark, where the EU Flood Directive applies most strongly, local areas have welcomed these initiatives from utility companies, since the legislation means utility companies can contribute to funding infrastructure projects directly that the municipalities would otherwise need to fund themselves.
Diverting Surface Water and Using Existing Infrastructure as Emergency Waterways
The idea behind diversion of floodwaters is to move the water from an area where it will cause large amounts of damage (for example, a residential area or a manufacturing centre) to an area where it will cause minimal damage, such as a field or park. The diversions are set up beforehand and are permanent additions to the landscape, meaning that no specific action needs to be taken to activate them: they are always ready.
As a natural extension of this strategy, some companies are creating areas in cities and towns that will function as dry spots for most of the year, transforming into reservoirs for surface water in the event of flooding. Most of these facilities are urban parks or skate parks, so they can benefit the residents of an urban area during the dry months as well as during floods.
Utility companies have also helped plan and finance infrastructure projects with the aim of using them to channel huge amounts of surface water away from urban centres. Most of these projects take the form of roads with a specific shape, allowing them to function as watercourses in times of heavy rain. This method of course requires the roads to be closed, but while it is an inconvenience, it is much less of a hassle to citizens of the area than allowing floodwater to destroy their homes and businesses.
Similarly, some utilities companies have recently begun to co-finance installations designed to limit the amount of water that runs through waterways in urban areas, ensuring that they will be able to meet the demand placed on them by very heavy rain.
Between placing new planning legislation in place, creating emergency reservoirs and sluiceways, and preparing watercourses for heavy loads, utility companies are doing more to protect people from floods than any other agency. The fact that floods are more common and more destructive now than they have ever been is a point in their favour as they continue to help shore up municipalities and councils across Britain and Europe.