Joining up the dots in Flood Risk Management

Catherine Morgan
Monday, 19th January 2015

One year on from the devastation caused by the winter floods of 2013 that inundated Somerset and the surrounding areas week after week. The damage was estimated to have reached £1billion with severe consequences for small businesses, communities and families, many of whom are still struggling to recover.

There has been much speculation about the role of global warming in the major flooding events that have been occurring world wide, and whether they may merely be the start of what’s to come in future. While the Met Office’s response the UK’s winter floods stated that there is ‘no definitive answer’ to that question, there is a growing portfolio of evidence that shows extreme daily rainfall rates are becoming more intense, and that the rate of increase is in line with what could be expected from Global Warming. The release of the IPCC 5th assessment report states that there is robust evidence that the number of people affected by river flooding will increase with greater warming, while there is very high confidence that coastal and low-lying areas will experience inundation and erosion more frequently due to sea level rise.

While questions remain about the extent our warming climate has played in recent extreme events, and the confidence with which we can make assertions about projections from climate models, what the latest IPCC report tells us is that our world is warming - of that there is little doubt. Perhaps it is now time to put questions about what we don’t know aside and focus our attention and our efforts on our society’s collective response to what we do know – change is occurring and it is impacting the hydrological cycle.

Within the UK there is a body of professional and academic expertise in Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management comprising expert practitioners from across research, policy and practice sectors brought together in www.FCERM.net . This community of practitioners are a crucial resource that will help shape the future of Flood Risk Management (FRM). Together, we recognise that there is no one single approach to FRM, rather a holistic approach that targets the physical engineering challenges, respects and enhances the natural ecological catchment dynamics and engages local communities in creating socially responsible and sustainable approaches to climate resilience is required. Recognising that each catchment is unique in terms of its hydrological regime, land-use and micro-dynamics means that a holistic approach to Flood Risk Management must allow practitioners to have autonomy in decision-making, whilst operating within a framework of best-practice - derived from a combination of cutting edge research and practitioner knowledge and expertise.

We have a community of expert practitioners, but just how do we go about joining-up the dots between research, policy and practice, and how do we ensure that the steps being taken now will lead to practical and significant improvements for those living with the threat of flooding?  Our experience of bringing these groups together informs us that there are still a number of obstacles to enabling exchanges in knowledge, collaboration and dissemination.  There will always be barriers such as time and expense, but what we continue to find is that language and culture are the greatest obstacles to meaningful collaboration and successful sharing of knowledge.  From a language point of view, technical jargon, scientific terms and discipline-specific vocabulary meet business expressions and consultancy acronyms.  It makes for a very difficult conversation. Couple this with differences in organisational culture and archaic disciplinary imbalances, described in Nick Mount's blog and we have in brief some insight into some of the challenges facing our finest and most experienced FCERM researchers and practitioners.

It is clear that time is of the essence in delivering effective Flood Risk Management; we have a network of experienced professionals and the will to collaborate and share knowledge.  What we need to do now is work out how we can best close the gaps between our very different perspectives, disciplines and sectors to provide Flood Risk Management that is leading edge, innovative and of real practical value to those homes and businesses facing the threat of future flooding.

Do you have a view on this issue that you'd like to share? Join the discussion or to join the network click here.