Water, water everywhere

08/01/2016

My son has long loved those riddles, the ones that go “Would you rather be deaf or blind?” or “Would you rather be able to fly or be invisible?” or “Would you rather know the date on which you’ll die, or what you’ll die of?” (Answer: neither.)

This week it’s been: would you rather be defending your home from a raging bushfire or a surging flood?

I’m in Cumbria, UK, at the moment, a part of England that has suffered its worst flooding in decades: roads and bridges washed away, tens of thousands of houses inundated, and me forced to watch hours of crap English telly.

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So imagine my surprise when Lachlan popped through a link to these photos of the Styx in full churn. What is going on? When I left it was stinking hot and people were predicting the worst bushfire season since … well, the last one.

But the question that’s vexing the UK’s media, now that the water is going down a little bit, is that of flood defences: why didn’t they work? Successive governments have spent millions of pounds on engineering solutions, using thinking similar to that which created the Styx (i.e. get the water away ASAP).

A story that’s slowly emerging is the success that involved engineering of a different kind: revegetating hillsides, and creating organic dams and bunds to retard flow. The Yorkshire town of Pickering – refused flood defence funds some years ago – turned to alternative solutions and, unlike much of the region, localised flooding was negligible.

I know that the Hunter Valley isn’t Cumbria, or even Yorkshire, but there are many lessons we can learn from the people of Pickering.