The Weekly Report Cornerstone

   WEEK 28 July 2nd to 8th 2001


   The UK Environment Agency warned today that climate change, along with the extremes in weather that it brings, is causing serious problems.
   This warning follows the need to top up levels on the River Ouse, in East Sussex, from a local reservoir after levels dropped to the lowest point since the winter months.
   The Ouse river flows through Lewes, which is nationally recognized as the most flood damaged town in the country. More than 800 homes and businesses have been affected by flooding and nearly 700 cars have been damaged or written off.
   Environment Agency spokesperson Jo Hunt explains that floods and drought are both effects of climate change. The hot and dry weather of June, following on from a dry May, has resulted in river levels dropping rapidly across the Southern Region, and it has become necessary to take urgent action to keep rivers flowing to prevent environmental damage, she says.
   National Farmers Union Vice President Michael Paske said, "The need for water is literally fundamental to farmers and growers - crops cannot grow without it and other practices depend on it.
   "After the wettest year in living memory last year, it can be easy to forget how important it is to treat water as a precious commodity. The recent hot, dry weather shows how quickly things can change," said Paske.
   In West Sussex, levels on the River Lavant at Chichester are so low that it will cease flowing within the next week if there is no rain. This is in sharp contrast to the dangerously high levels that threatened the town with flooding in the weeks leading up to Christmas, requiring the construction of an emergency flood relief channel. Chichester was a maze of pipes and pumps directing the river around the town for several months over the winter period. In Kent, most spring fed rivers are running well above the seasonal norm, but the Medway River has fallen sharply in the last few weeks. The agency has now been obliged to put the routine summer abstraction control rules into operation in order to protect river flows.
   At the same time as the Environment Agency is acting to protect the environment from the dry weather, some Hampshire towns and villages are suffering the effects of groundwater flooding.
   Climate change is believed to be the cause of these seemingly contradictory circumstances, says Hunt, and the agency is "gravely concerned" that flooding will once again cause devastation this winter.
   Since much of the Southern Region is situated on a chalk aquifer, groundwater flooding poses a serious flood risk. Chalk is porous and can hold water, like a huge sponge, gradually soaking up rainfall, Hunt says. The rise is slow, but once the ground is saturated, water is equally slow to drain away especially in Hampshire where the chalk is fairly retentive.







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Entered 2001-07-06