Similar changes have occurred here in the UK, and too often we forget that we have a pretty good pedigree of water management in this country. After all, in 1984 we completed the Thames Barrier, one of the most reliable flood defences in the world. It is still seen as pivotal in London’s defences for the next 100 years. As a nation we reclaimed most of the natural wetlands, such as the Somerset
Levels and the Fens, turning them into fertile agricultural land. We tamed the rivers, linked them with man-made canals, and built warehouses, mills, factories and power plants along them – all in the name of trade and industry. Unfortunately, these innovations and interventions have changed the natural control mechanisms of the rivers, leaving an inflexible system that is showing signs of strain from the increasingly variable British weather.
But the tide has changed and ‘flood defence’ is no longer the policy line – now we call it ‘flood management’. The Environment Agency has more influence in refusing irresponsible development, or at least some of it (13 major developments were still permitted against Environment Agency advice in
2006/7). This is as much out of a greater environmental sensitivity, typical of postindustrialised
nations, as it is a response to the improved understanding and respect for natural systems that we have developed.