Storm Henk floods in Lincolnshire prompt calls for an urgent debate on the future of water as a resource
The challenges posed by Storm Henk need to promote a discussion about our future use of water – according to leading voices in the area.
Managing director of Water Resources East Daniel Johns says his group is looking at ways to increase investment in water storage for farmers.
He said: “Water Resources East’s updated regional plan was published in December 2023. The report demonstrates how important more water storage will be to meet the growing needs for farming as well as for the public water supply.
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“WRE also chairs the South Lincolnshire Water Partnership, involving the Environment Agency, internal drainage boards, Anglian Water, Lincolnshire County Council, Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, the National Farmers Union and individual farm representatives.
“The group is exploring how the proposed Lincolnshire Reservoir can unlock wider investment in water storage for agriculture, tied to plans by the Environment Agency and internal drainage boards to reduce flood risks and improve the environment.”
Martin Blake, joint co-ordinator of the South Lincolnshire Green Party for the South Holland area, is calling for a change of approach to water.
He said: “For those of us who have been anxiously watching river levels rising, following successive storms which have caused widespread flooding in recent months, it seems remarkable that we’re also being warned of severe water shortages to come, requiring the construction of new reservoirs. So what’s going on?
“Scientists have warned for decades that global heating is likely to result in more hot dry summers and mild wet winters in the UK, and this is what we’re seeing. It’s not surprising then that we seem to have too much water on the surface, and not enough under it, but we haven’t helped.
“Much of the land in South Holland and the Deepings, until the late 17th century, was marshy wetland, providing essential food for poorer residents, particularly eel fishing. The Dutch engineer Philibert Vernatti’s first attempt at digging the Vernatts Drain to create farmland for the wealthy was vandalised by the local population. Prior to that, north of the Vernatts between Spalding and Pinchbeck was marshland. It is still categorised as category 4 flood land, despite proposals for extensive housing development between the ‘Relief Road’ and Pinchbeck. Our area is significantly at risk, much of it under sea level.
“We have to change our approach to water. Where rivers have been straightened to accelerate their flow, we can reverse this and allow them to find their natural course. The resulting increase in wetlands also benefits wildlife and carbon storage. We can introduce more soft landscaping into new developments, so encouraging natural drainage, and refuse development where water supplies are already overstretched.
“We can invest more in reducing leakages from supply pipes. And ultimately we need more urgent action to increase our resilience to climate change. If we don’t, all our other efforts are likely to be in vain.”
The funding of internal drainage boards has been brought into sharp focus in recent years due to the spiralling energy costs – with political leaders arguing for a change in how these vital services are financed.
The IDBs were partially funded by Revenue Support Grant which was given to councils from the Government but that grant has been reduced back and now authorities are having to use money that should be going to providing services such as refuse collections and supporting vulnerable residents.
Catch up with more of our flooding coverage here
South Holland District Council increased council tax bills in April by around 3% earlier this year with all of the additional £300,000 going to fund the drainage boards due to high energy costs – and a Local Government Association special interest group has been set up to look at this issue.
Chairman of this group is the district council’s finance chief, Coun Paul Redgate, who is also backing calls a look at the future use of water.
He said: “As we are seeing with the aftermath of Storm Henk, pumping stations are operating at near capacity as they continue to move water away to reduce flood risk. Flooding to properties, businesses and farmland would be even greater if it was not for the pumping stations working around the clock to protect us.
“Storms and droughts are likely to become ever more frequent due to climate change and I would support any future discussion into how water is best used and stored for when it is needed on the land.
“The Special Interest Group fully supports the important work of the Internal Drainage Boards and the role they play in reducing flood risk.
“The SIG - with the support of Internal Drainage Boards and the Association of Drainage Authorities - is proactively lobbying the Government to ensure IDBs are funded in a fair and sustainable way that does not impact on the money available for council services through funds received from council tax.
"The levy paid to IDBs is likely to increase as the boards are faced with unprecedented costs. Without a change to the way they are currently funded, the levy will continue to significantly impact council budgets and the services we can afford to provide.”
North Level District Drainage Board has been operating at near capacity with 29 of its 34 pumps operating following a very wet period with 22.48mm of rainfall recorded in early January. Its chief executive Paul Sharman called for a debate on water as a resource as we now face the challenges of crop irrigation during periods of drought.
What do you think? What, if anything, needs to change in light of January’s floods? Post your thoughts in the comments below