ICE past president and flood expert professor David Balmforth has said the Cumbria floods are a “salutary lesson” in the limitation of flood defences and the importance of flood resilience”.
Storm Desmond has caused widespread flooding, not least in Cockermouth where defences built in 2013 at a cost of £4.4M were overtopped.
“Events like this serve as a harsh reminder of the finite capacity of our flood defences, and the destructive impact extreme flooding has on our communities. Cascade failure of infrastructure services such as power and transport further exacerbate the disruption,” said Balmforth.
“Government’s commitment to invest £2.3bn in flood risk management over the next six years is welcome, but as extreme weather events become more frequent and unpredictable, we will need a more holistic approach to flood resilience,” he added.
“Local communities need a wider range of resilience measures so they are not solely reliant on conventional defences,” explained Balmforth. “We must adopt a systems approach which tackles the domino effect we see across the networks, funding for the maintenance of existing defences should be factored into spend plans from the outset, and where new development is proposed we should ensure resilience is at the heart of the design - not an afterthought.”
The impact of Storm Desmond was exacerbated because the “exceptional” levels of rain fell on to already saturated land, the Met Office explained.
It said Honister in the Lake District, Cumbria, recorded 341.4mm of rain in just 24 hours, a record amount for the UK, beating the previous record set in November 2009.
This resulted in a vast volume of water running off the surrounding hills into the area’s river systems, overwhelming communities’ flood defences, even those recently improved after damaging floods less than a decade ago.