Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Collateral flood damage

When introduced as a journalist, I spend half my conversations defending misspelling, mistakes and exaggerations in magazines and newspapers. It is in part a duty - loyalty to my second profession. But when on holiday I see the blatant damage caused by media reports, I despair.

This year's spree was to the Bodensee, a leisurely drive down through Germany's vineyards to Lake Constance - its Swiss name - the 60km by 15km lake ringed by Switzerland, Austria and Germany. It is actually not a lake but a swelling of the River Rhine gouged out by a glacier in the Ice Age. The mighty mass of water, 250m deep, creates a benign climate and natural holiday playground, said by some to be Europe's most beautiful.

Record snows in the Alps this winter have already exacted a tragic avalanche toll, and several weeks of high rainfall in April and May have run off fast and joined the swollen meltdown. Southern Germany is subject to hochwasser - high water - and, in the same terminology as this country, 100-year plus flood levels. The Danube and Bodensee are prime victims to date, but the next few weeks will surely see more.

At every break on the journey down south, we were warned to keep clear. Several lives were lost when an embankment burst, and newspapers and TV bulletins, tired of the bombing of Serbia and the plight of Kosovan refugees, detailed emergency efforts and dramatised flood accidents and losses.

Undeterred, we settled into our hotel 20m from the lake and watched the makeshift wall of sandbags being steadily reinforced over the next eight days. We enjoyed a sunny, invigorating holiday, unperturbed by hochwasser.

The high water will continue to cause problems for the next three months if previous records are anything to go by. This year the surface of the lake is 2.6m higher than expected at this time, a new record. Colourful graphs on display in each town and village trace lake levels over the last 100 years. It is ominous that six of the previous record highs have occurred in the last 15 years. On a dry sunny day, surface evaporation can drop the levels by 30mm to 40mm, but thunderstorms can whip up waves several times higher and over the sandbags.

The most obvious sign of distress is that most cellars within 50m of the water are inundated and a variety of pumps and pipes struggle to convey the waters into outlets incapable of flowing. Flooding happens so regularly that insurance companies refuse cover at any price.

This year's floods cover many lakeside paths and parks. The regular ferry services to some smaller ports have been suspended until their piers resurface. A wooden platform had been built outside our local bank so that people could withdraw cash from the wall without getting wet.

Newspapers, radio and television were doing what they always do, drumming up the drama and offering amateur advice. The effect was that pensions, campsites, hotels and restaurants were unusually empty as visitors steered clear. Bodensee businesses are slack at a time when the locals need a good season to pay for damage.

It is not necessarily the media's job to give a full and accurate picture of what's going on. But some way should be found to give simple reliable information on which to base personal decisions. Small wonder that most people do not trust what they read in the papers.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.