Has it been raining where you are?
You may have seen news stories about people’s houses being flooded. But it’s not all bad news. People are coming up with all sorts of solutions to problems caused by too much water.
Transcript podcast – February 28, 2020
Some are very small – things you can do at home – and some are huge, like building monster barricades.
Many of the most interesting ideas involve working not against Mother Nature but finding ways to get along with her. We like one where people are helping beavers, those engineers of the animal world, to build us natural dams.
Floods are part of Nature. Nothing new. (Think of Noah and his Ark!) So why are the news media talking about floods as if it’s a big deal?
Well, it’s partly because bad news tends to get people excited.
So what are people doing about it?
First, we’re trying to slow down global warming by creating less “greenhouse gas” – cutting air pollution caused by cars, planes, factories, farm animals and so on.
But people are also coming up with ideas to help us cope with more water. And one place that is getting a lot of attention these days is Holland. Do you know why?
Well, the people of Holland – the Dutch – have been taming the waters for centuries. More than half of the modern country of The Netherlands should be under the North Sea. But they have built barriers, called dykes, to keep it out.
The Dutch are still building – because they expect the sea level to rise. They have a huge gate that can stop higher tides surging up the river to flood Rotterdam, a vital port for all of Europe.
Each of its two steel arms is as big as the Eiffel Tower. But this month, a Dutch engineer proposed an even more super-humungous construction.
He suggested building two monster dykes, from England to France and from Scotland to Norway – nearly 700 km in total, or more than 12 Channel Tunnels!
The Dutch are also finding ways, not to fight against water, but to live with it.
They have understood that building towns has made it hard for rivers to cope with the amount of water that sometimes flows down them – like when the snow melts. They have a programme to make “Room for the River”. Under it, they have paid some people to move their homes so as to leave empty space for rivers to flood.
They are experimenting with building houses – even office buildings – that could float if there is a flood. And they are trying to make areas where open ground can soak up heavy rains. One such project has created an artificial lake for rowing races.
One way we can all help in that is, for example, to remove slabs and concrete from our gardens. That lets the soil naturally drink up water. If rain lands on concrete, it quickly runs away, causing a big surge for our towns’ drains.
Rather than fight it, says the mayor of Rotterdam: “We must learn to live with water.”
In Britain, the government announced it is going to build a super-computer that can help predict flooding. People are also experimenting with planting trees along the banks, or new types of grass and creating areas where water can flood safely.
Four hundred years after the disappeared from Britain, beavers have been brought back to set up home. In Devon, eight beaver families have been building dams and fishponds along a riverbank. Last week, scientists said that Nature’s own engineers have made the river much less likely to flood into a nearby village. Bravo beavers!
The problems of rising sea levels and more intense rains are going to be with us for a long time. But what we’ve learned is that people have a long history of finding solutions to manage water.
Working with Nature offers us some interesting answers!