Our water problem

Latest column from CLA East Acting Director Mark Riches
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In my conversations with CLA members in our region there is one topic that is at the forefront of their minds. The weather. As a nation we like to talk about the weather but there is little joy to be had in current conversations.

Extreme weather events have become unpredictably predictable. A terrible autumn became an awful winter, which has turned into the wettest spring I can recall. As I travel around our region you are never too far from a field that is still under water.

It is hard not to catastrophise when the winter wheat that was established has now rotted in the fields, it’s too wet for spring drilling and the livestock is in the shed. Our members’ exposure to a lack of strategic planning is varied, but in recent months it has been most evident through the impact of flooding.

Fencing and walls have been damaged, the soil has been contaminated and environmental projects jeopardised. At the same time, with no apparent sense of irony, I read media reports recently about the possibility of hosepipe bans over the summer.

It is for the CLA, supported by our updated Water Strategy, to step up and deliver solutions backed by reason and data. We need to persuade the Environment Agency to do so much more about flooding.

One starting point would be to return management and long-term projects to internal drainage boards, because the work they do is quicker, cheaper and more effective. Years of poor management of watercourses and flood defences by the Environment Agency, often caused by a lack of resources, means farmers are still unfairly shouldering the burden of flooding devastation.

Payments for flood alleviation that saves downstream property must be properly negotiated (or re-negotiated) and proportionate. Talk of hosepipe bans in the media – however unlikely they may seem as we wade around in mud – stems, in part, from a lack of reservoirs.

At least 30 more are required for domestic consumption, yet not a single new one for public water supply has been built since the early 1990s – a fact that neatly epitomises the lack of long-term thinking by many governments when it comes to water.