A key element of the Environment Agency's portfolio is to reduce flood risk to people, property and the natural environment in England and Wales, working with industry and communities. Engineers are one of the many professions we need to help us deliver flood risk management.
Since the extreme floods of 2000 when 11,000 properties in England flooded, engineers have designed, built and improved 200km of flood defences, reducing flood risk for an additional 28,000 people. There is, of course, much more to do. Inappropriate development decisions and the impact of climate change - increased storminess and rising sea levels - mean the risk of flooding is here to stay.
This presents a very big engineering challenge.
Investment in new flood defence works is likely to increase to some £250M per year by 2005/06 within a total budget of nearly £500M, with the remaining money being spent on the other essential tools in flood risk management:
flood warning and flood defence maintenance.
Building the right kind of defence is a complicated business. There are many considerations to be taken into account: safety, heritage, habitats, wildlife, aesthetics, public access and social and economic impact. We increasingly have to devise new and innovative solutions to meet the varying needs of different communities. We are finding alternative ways of protecting people and property, such as demountable and temporary defence systems. Early involvement with the communities themselves is central to devising the right engineering solution.
While there is naturally much interest in new and innovative defences it is the system of 34,000km of river and coastal flood banks, barriers, flood water reservoirs and other control structures that provides the backbone of our national defences.
In the extreme events of autumn 2000, 280,000 properties benefited from the successful operation of these defences. Underpinning all flood risk management is the need to maintain these national assets so they are ready to defend all day and every day.
Sir John Harman, Environment Agency chairman