A close squeak

River levels upstream and in Oxford peaked overnight and, weather permitting, should now slowly but steadily continue to fall. The weather forecast, while not wall-to-wall sunshine, looks reasonably encouraging.

In the event no properties were flooded and no temporary barriers were deployed this time, though it came very close to it.

Thank you to all the many people from the Environment Agency who have monitored things closely, and made preparations to deploy defences should the need arise.

Oxford today

River levels in Oxford today have not risen as far as had been predicted. So good news so far. The EA is watching things closely for the whole area.

In the case of South Hinksey, the barriers which were delivered there this morning are to be kept in reserve for now. Barriers for other areas remain in reserve at Osney.

Barrier deployment

Temporary flood barriers will be moved from Osney to South Hinksey tomorrow, in readiness for possible deployment by the Environment Agency tomorrow or Wednesday – if conditions require. The situation following the recent rains is being closely monitored and analysed – what happens will depend on these assessments. Similar vigilance applies to the deployment of barriers for Osney Island and at Hinksey Park on the Abingdon Road: barriers for both these areas are ready at Osney if needs be. These latter areas have had temporary barriers before, whereas for South Hinksey, if it happens, it will be a first, following making the village ‘barrier-ready’. Temporary barriers are supported by high volume pumps to deal with any water leaking through the barrier or arriving within the barrier as rising groundwater.

 

Storm Dennis

Appalling floods in Wales (and elsewhere) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news

The Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme is, unfortunately, delayed but is still as much needed as ever. In fact more so – as Earth continues to heat up the changing climate is producing more extreme weather and consequent severe flooding.

River levels above, and in and around, Oxford have already risen quite a bit since the storm’s rain over the weekend, and the next few days will see further rises in Oxford as the water makes its way downstream from the Cotswolds. It remains to be seen how big these rises are. You can follow local river levels and the flow rate upstream at Farmoor here.

The trauma of flooding

Unsurprisingly, flooding has both short and long term adverse effects on people’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.

A BBC article today ‘Communities in Calderdale ‘traumatised’ by 2015 floods’ illustrates just how traumatic flooding can be. Here’s a short excerpt:

“Every time it rains you can feel the tension,” said Hebden Bridge flood warden Andrew Entwistle. “Especially when the sirens go off, you can feel the anxiety radiating from people, asking what the situation is and how bad it’s going to get.”

Back in 2015, the former firefighter was eating a late Christmas Day lunch when the flood alert was first sounded – signalling the start of heavy rain which led to the River Calder bursting its banks. Some 18 months later, the 76-year-old turned to counselling to help him deal with what he had witnessed.

He recalls: “I’ve been used to handling floods and disasters but this was on another level. One lady collapsed on the street in front of me. The stress levels and sheer amount of tragedy that unfolded is indescribable and those feelings don’t just disappear.”

Concern in the Oxford area

There is increasing concern today that water levels are high in the Oxford area, with a good deal more water still to come down to Oxford from the Cotswolds catchment. The area is presently (midday) on an EA Flood Alert (the lowest level of concern).

We’re seeing more flooding globally, Venice is badly hit at the moment – and the awful flooding in the north of England continues.

There is no doubt that the climate is changing. Oxford has always flooded but the change will make it more common and more severe. The immediate threat may recede now, let’s hope so, but it highlights again that it’s imperative that Oxford is better protected, not only for the many people directly affected but for the city itself to continue to function and thrive into the future.

The multi-partner Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme is in process and all concerned are working hard to make it happen as soon as humanly possible. As we have said before, “it can’t come soon enough.”

 

 

Severe flooding in Yorkshire

Exceptional rainfall has caused widespread and serious flooding in the north of England. It seems pretty clear (from this, and many other events worldwide) that climate change is happening here and now https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-50343977

Meanwhile in New South Wales a very different emergency, which again seems almost certain to be climate change related https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-50341207

The list goes on.

Flood defences are sorely needed for Oxford’s river flooding, and more than ever now that we’re faced with more frequent extreme weather events. The Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme is being developed to provide that defence.

 

 

Vicki Arroyo: “Let’s prepare for our new climate”

Vicki Arroyo is the Executive Director of the Georgetown Climate Center at Georgetown Law, where she also serves as the Assistant Dean of Centers and Institutes and a Professor from Practice. See here for more about her: https://www.georgetownclimate.org/about-us/staff.html

In the video below she talks about preparing for and adapting to climate change. She ends with:

“The larger point I’m trying to make is this. It’s up to us to look at our homes and our communities, our vulnerabilities and our exposures to risk, and to find ways to not just survive, but to thrive, and it’s up to us to plan and to prepare and to call on our government leaders and require them to do the same, even while they address the underlying causes of climate change. There are no quick fixes. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions. We’re all learning by doing. But the operative word is doing.”

As a flood plain city Oxford is very vulnerable: seven main rivers meet at Oxford, with a combined upstream catchment of about 2,500 km2. For over 10 years our Alliance has been talking to, calling on, and working with, the authorities responsible – from the Directors of the Environment Agency to local government and other bodies –  to make Oxford better prepared for what climate change will bring. A good deal has already been done but more is needed; the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme will enable Oxford to continue to thrive. Without it we may be, almost literally, sunk.

OFAS and development

Development

People have suggested that the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme (OFAS, the Scheme) could lead to, or facilitate, new development in the flood plain, which would add to urbanisation and reduce the amount of open space in west and south Oxford.

OFAS is about reducing flood risk to existing properties, business and infrastructure. It is not being proposed with the goal of creating opportunities for future development. There are a few areas which would benefit from the scheme where some development or redevelopmentmight take place in future, subject to the normal planning approvals being obtained. But this is incidental to the flood scheme.

Osney Mead

One of the areas where it’s claimed development will be facilitated is Osney Mead. Oxford University has publicly said that it has aspirations to redevelop this area. It is an already developed site, hosting a large number of businesses currently facing risk of flooding.

The University are paying for an additional bund (and all associated costs) to be created along the western edge of Ferry Hinksey Rd. This additional feature will increase protection from flooding for businesses currently operating from Osney Mead, and has been taken on board by OFAS for this reason alone. Any redevelopment would be of a brownfield site. Proposals for redevelopment would have to go through the planning process, demonstrate consistency with the existing Local Plan, and show they do not increase flood risk.

Elsewhere

The main area in the flood plain that is not presently built on, but which will be protected by OFAS from flooding in future, is on the river (east) side of the Abingdon Road, south of the hotel and including University College sports ground and Cowmead allotments.

This area (about the size of Osney Mead) will be protected by a bund along its eastern edge. We understand it would be very difficult, and more costly, to put the bund closer to the road. But even with the current OFAS design there is no certainty that this land will be developed.Any plans to develop these sites would be subject to local planning permission, and while OFAS could make the conditions easier to meet, it does not follow that development will happen here.

The vast majority of the flood plain will continue to flood – and that will be essential for the Scheme to work as planned. Although the Scheme area, where changes will be made, does not occupy all the flood plain meadowland, these flood meadows are nevertheless an integral part of the scheme design and need to be able to flood as they do now.

There will be no change to the Green Belt around Oxford as a result of the construction of OFAS.

The open, green flood plain meadows will be no more open to development than they are now, indeed arguably the fact that they will now be part of a specific, designed and paid-for flood scheme will make development there much less, not more, likely.

And if, as intended, the scheme area is expertly managed for wildlife, by organisations such as the Freshwater Habitats Trust or BBOWT, as well as for recreation (including fishing), the greater its chance of resisting the threat of unscrupulous developers.

There are other recent posts relating to OFAS –

Clarifications and explanations

Gravel mining – Be careful what you wish for

An Oxfordshire gravel mine, 2018

Oxford can – and must – be prepared

The BBC reports further today on the serious Welsh floods

“Communities will want new flood defences after many Welsh rivers burst their banks during Storm Callum, Wales’ environment agency has warned.

Parts of Wales saw the worst flooding for 30 years ….

A 21-year-old man was killed after a landslip and many homes and businesses were flooded as Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and south Powys bore the brunt of the storm on Friday and over the weekend.”

We’ve been proactive in Oxford so we’re much further ahead – the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme is currently being considered for planning approval. Whether the Welsh floods are in part related to climate change would require event attribution analysis to give an estimate of the probability that that is the case. But certainly it’s the sort of event that one would expect with climate change. It’s vital that Oxford’s as ready as it can be.