Building with nature and using technology to tackle flood risk

Flooding has been in the news of late. Severe flooding in Venice left much of the famous Italian city under water whilst much closer to home South Yorkshire was hit by calamitous November floods. The Mayor of Venice Luigi Brugnaro wasn’t pulling any punches when he noted that “These are the effects of climate change... the costs will be high."

We’ve not been immune to incidences of flooding in Scotland, and several towns including Perth, and Elgin have sophisticated flood defences in place. That’s good news as the predictions suggest that climate change is expected to increase the frequency and severity of flooding across Scotland.

Whilst the Green Infrastructure Strategic Intervention work across Scotland primarily seeks to improve Scotland’s urban environment by improving access to greenspace, it’s fair to say that wherever possible it includes flood mitigation elements.

Take the Canal and North Gateway project being managed by Glasgow City Council. Here, as well as enhancing the greenspaces along the canal corridor, work is geared to providing innovative surface water drainage solutions which will reduce instances of flooding.

One fascinating part of this huge project focusses on a water management system. It involves implementing a surface water drainage solution for the regeneration of key vacant and derelict sites including Sighthill, Hamiltonhill and Cowlairs. This is done by dynamically managing the water level in the now ‘smart canal’ to provide flood storage. It’s a vivid example of blue-green infrastructure underpinning regeneration.

The Canal & North Gateway grant is part of the larger North Glasgow Integrated Water Management System (NGIWMS) delivered by Glasgow City Council, Scottish Water and Scottish Canals, and all are delighted with the snappier, more descriptive, ‘smart canal’ working title.

Some of the technology that will underpin the ‘smart canal’ is remarkable. Sensors and computer weather forecasting will provide early warning of incoming wet weather then move excess rainfall from housing and business sites to parts of the canal where, in preparation, the water level will have been deliberately lowered. For those of you who love numbers - this will give 55,000 cubic metres of extra capacity to cope with storms.
The NGIWMS is not only a water management system, it’s a boon to local biodiversity. It extends the canal corridor by introducing surface water into the heart of regeneration sites. These fingers in turn create a habitat network with wetland margins which appeal to plants, mammals and birds. And, as is often the case, what wildlife likes, people generally appreciate too.

In nearby Blairtummock in Easterhouse it’s a similar story of planning to cope with extremes but one which relies more heavily on harnessing nature. One feature could stand out in the new development. With climate change a constant concern at the moment it is heartening that the design here always included the daylighting of Whamflet burn and creation of wetland storage areas, which will increase drainage capacity and improve flood storage options.

At Middlefield in Aberdeen another Green Infrastructure project has made an impression by building with nature. Removing the cover over the Scatter Burn and then creating a wetland meadow on this site should greatly enhance the ability of this site to cope with flash flood incidents.

Given that reducing flood risk is a key commitment in the programme for government it’s heartening to know that, to date, Green Infrastructure Strategic Intervention projects appear to be helping deliver solutions to coping with extreme weather incidents.

There are many formal flood schemes completed in Scotland – schemes have been built since the 1961 Flood Prevention Act. That legislation has now been replaced by the Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act, 2009. The Scottish Flood Defence Asset Database (SFDAD) lists all the schemes – there is a web site –– just search for SFDAD.