Images of people queuing for water in Cape Town, the first city facing the prospect of running out of water in April, is a stark reminder to policymakers around the world that effective water management is an important duty of government.
Here in South Shropshire, while we have periodically suffered from too little water, we generally have more from the other end of the spectrum. Too much water has caused considerable damage and suffering, through flash flooding in summer and overflowing rivers in winter.
With extreme weather events taking place more frequently around the globe, it is important we prepare against excess water in future.
Practically speaking, we are not as a nation able to afford to put in place major permanent structures to manage water flows wherever flooding is likely (the river Severn alone is 220 miles long). But there are steps we can take to control the flow rate of rivers and to reduce the risk of flooding where it is likely to occur.
For example, the impressive £2.1m Much Wenlock attenuation ponds project, completed late last year, will protect 178 properties in the local area from flood risk. This is done by collecting excess surface run-off water in pools, from which the outflow can then be controlled, to help waterways and drains cope better with the volume of water. But there are also lower cost preventative measures that can be undertaken to alleviate the problem of excess water flow.
I saw this last week when I visited Culmington to learn more about a project sponsored by the Environment Agency, Shropshire Council and Shropshire Wildlife Trust, which takes simple measures working with nature to slow the flow of water at early stages in river catchments. These include making ‘leaky dams’ along a length of brook, using trees and other materials found at the water’s edge to reduce flow rates when flash flooding occurs. They also help prevent the flow of silt or sediment, which can reduce the space for water in drains and channels. More information on this innovative project is at www.shropshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/slow-the-flow.
Given management of water flows is a growing national challenge due to more frequent and more extreme weather, I am proud to see South Shropshire leading the way in developing innovative approaches to tackling water flow management, which will help protect not only homes and businesses, but also our local environment.