Time to face up to water challenge

Innes Thomson believes many of us don't realise how disruptive flooding can be.
Innes Thomson believes many of us don't realise how disruptive flooding can be.
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HAVING RECENTLY taken up the post of chief executive of the Association of Drainage Authorities (ADA) across England and Wales, Harrogate-based Innes Thomson explains why more careful investment is needed to manage our waterways.

I am conscious that a lot of people may have an unglamorous perception of what ‘drainage authorities’ are and do. Basically, they are bodies that manage water levels and undertake work to reduce flood risk to people and property on both a local and national scale.

Here in Yorkshire, we have a considerable chunk of the county that depends on the management of water levels to allow our daily lives to function normally.

Fortunately, I am pleased to say that Yorkshire has a very well-developed partnership of authorities and other bodies that work together to manage our water levels and flood risk - principally our local councils, the Environment Agency and Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs). But how many people know about the vital daily work that is done by IDBs to keep the water in our low lying areas flowing freely?

The UK has 111 IDBs of which 22 sit in Yorkshire, each a local public authority established in an area of special drainage need. They have permissive powers to manage water levels within their drainage districts and raise money for the work they do under the provisions of the Land Drainage Act 1991.

None of us want to see what happened in Somerset last year happening here in Yorkshire - and similar flooding could have easily occurred if the weather circumstances had been different.

We did have a very close call from the tidal surge of December 2013 and we must all take stock and learn the lessons from those events. We must consider how, locally, we spend the time and reasonably small quantities of money needed in comparison with other demands, to manage and maintain our flood risk assets and watercourses.

If I use a motorway analogy, would you accept that, through a lack of maintenance, a lane of one of our major three-lane motorways had to be closed indefinitely? Well, the same theory applies if we don’t maintain our rivers, drains and ditches, keeping them clear to help water flow smoothly to places where it can be managed more effectively.

Many of us simply don’t realise just how disruptive flooding can be. We take things for granted like schools, hospitals, transport, road networks, power, food production and provision, and water supply and treatment. What if we were cut off from those things because flood waters weren’t able to flow away, as was the case in Somerset? We wouldn’t accept the situation and, given its economic and environmental value, Yorkshire has a very strong case for the need for increased investment in maintaining the flood risk and water level management assets such as pumps, embankments and rivers that we already have.

So, please ask your prospective MPs what they are doing to champion water level management and flood risk in your area, find out more about what your drainage authorities do, and get involved with them. IDBs depend on being well managed by a mixed balance of elected councillors and drainage ratepayers.

The Association of Drainage Authorities website - www.ada.org - will help you see which IDBs are active in your area and who to contact if you have any questions.