Engineering a floating world

The Netherlands is a pretty straight-talking kind of place, and its response to flooding follows that approach. An article in the Observer describes the way that this country, much of which is below sea level, has approached flooding problems. It has got things wrong in the past, and suffered devastating floods, but the reaction has been to face up to hard choices, and most people seem to accept them.

The article interviews farmers who were told that they would have to abandon their homes because the area in which they sat was needed for an extended flood plain. They were compensated with the purchase price, and given a new place to farm, on a sort of tump created on top of a dyke. The point is that they were told what was happening, unlike the farmers in the Somerset levels who were left relatively unprotected and with no clear explanation of what was happening until it was too late.

It may well be that the UK will have to make some tough decisions and sacrifice some land if ‘one in a hundred year’ floods are to become a near annual occurrence. If this can be explained, rather than our current situation of neglect followed by panic spending, we may be in a better situation.

The other thing the Netherlands has done, on a small but highly publicised scale, is to build water-resilient homes. These are homes deliberately sited on the ‘wrong’ side of the flood barriers, but which can rise and fall with the incoming water. Some are actually in the water and are effectively houseboats, while others will simply lift up when the water gets too deep.

Not all these houses have sold yet, partly because of the depressed housing market. But they are an exciting solution, and one that has been much discussed here but not, so far, emulated. But when you look at the flood-drenched homes of the Thames Valley, many of which attracted a premium price because of their proximity to the very water that has now damaged them, you would think it is at least worth trying. 

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