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Viewpoint - Phil Woolas

The government is examining what can to be learnt from the 2007 floods, but climate change is already a major pressure.

With predictions for the UK of rising temperatures, wetter winters, drier summers, more intense rainfall events and greater climate variability, we can expect to experience higher water demand, more widespread water stress with increased risk of drought, more water quality problems, as well as more extreme downpours with a higher risk of flooding.

If we are to maintain our quality of life while protecting the environment, we must take action now.

As a densely populated and highly urbanised coastal country with lots of rivers, we already have a serious flood risk.

Anyone who has experienced flooding will appreciate the devastating effects it can have.

With climate change, winter rainfall could increase in some regions by as much as 30% by the 2080s, while rainfall intensity could increase in winter and summer.

The rising risks of flooding and diffuse pollution from a drainage system ill equipped to cope with more intense rainfall are particularly important in adapting to climate change.

To respond to the increasing probability of flooding from all sources, we have committed to Making Space for Water, an approach to managing flood and coastal erosion risk in England.

Since April 2003, government has invested around £2.2bn in managing risks from flooding and coastal erosion, with a further £600M planned to be invested in 2007/08, increasing to £800M in 2010/11.

The early part of the 2007 summer was the wettest since records began, causing widespread flooding across the country.

What followed was the loss of homes and businesses. In total, 55,000 homes and businesses were affected and tragically some events were
linked to the loss of life.

Tens of thousands of people lost their drinking water and power, all of which caused the combined damage from the June and July floods to reach £3bn.

In order to ensure all lessons are learnt from the 2007 summer floods, the government has asked Sir Michael Pitt to lead an independent review of the floods, the emergency response and the way in which recovery efforts were managed.

His interim report published in December 2007 set out a range of interim conclusions.

It also made urgent recommendations which he looked to government to take forward urgently.

We have been working on these, and as his analysis at the end of March suggested, have made significant progress with them.

But there is more to be done, and I look forward to discussing with you at NCE's 17 June conference some of the key challenges and responses which government can drive forward to manage the increasing risks.

- Phil Woolas is a Labour MP and environment minister. He will be speaking at NCE's The Future of UK Water Resources conference in London on 17 June.

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