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February 2020 floods reviews trigger clarion call to step up response to Climate Emergency impacts

The lessons learnt from February’s floods must be the catalyst for a seismic shift in how Wales responds to theclimate emergency and manages its future flood risk.

That is our urgent call to action as we publish our reviews into our response to February’s flood events.

The record rainfall and river flows triggered by Storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge earlier this year arrived following an exceptionally wet winter. 

The reviews found that the decisions and actions taken by our staff played a significant part in lessening what could have been even more severe impacts across Wales. The closing of flood gates, installation of demountable barriers and clearance of structures ensured many areas were effectively protected from the waters.

Across the whole of Wales, 73,000 properties benefit from our flood defences and it is estimated that 19,000 properties in South Wales escaped the flood waters during Storm Dennis due to the presence of these defences. Yet the impacts of the successive storms were felt across right across the nation as 3,130 properties succumbed to the ensuing flood waters over the course of the month.

Reflecting on the events, Clare Pillman said:

"From the lives upended by the devastating torrents of water, to the challenges faced by those immersed in the emergency response, February’s exceptional events were a test for everyone involved and our thoughts are with those still recovering and rebuilding today."

The scale of the events meant that, at times, our operations were stretched. This included the ability to react to rapidly escalating and unforeseen events on the ground, or to gather visual observations to support the issuing of flood warnings.

A record 243 Flood Alerts, 181 Flood Warnings and 6 Severe Flood Warnings were issued in February allowing people to take action to reduce the impact on themselves, their families and their properties. However, 12 flood warnings were not issued when they should have been, and six were issued late. Some immediate improvements have since been made to help reduce the eventuality of this happening again in an event of similar magnitude, and the review recommends longer term actions for further improvements.

The flood review sets out five key themes that we need to address in the short and longer term– supported by ten key areas for action - which will accelerate Wales’ progress to becoming better protected and prepared for more extreme weather events. They are:

  • Shortfalls in the flood warning service provision, evident in such significant and extreme events.
  • Capacity limitations to effectively warn and respond to flood events of this significant scale.
  • The need for a stronger, holistic organisational input into our flood response.
  • Improvements needed in our actions in the lead up to events and our ability to recover from them.
  • Difficult choices are to be made about the level of service that is practical, realistic and feasible, and the associated implication for the investment that will be required.

Clare Pillman added:

"We take the outcomes and actions recommended within our reviews incredibly seriously, wholeheartedly accepting where change is needed to improve the service we provide. We are committed to implementing the improvements it recommends.

"Amongst the issues our reviews have identified, there are things that can and have been addressed quickly. Other areas of improvement will require significant investment, design and planning and will take some time, possibly years, to fully resolve.

"But there are clearly lessons to learn and improvements to be made for all bodies responsible for flood risk management in Wales. While we can’t attribute every storm to the effects of climate change, the scientific evidence suggests that we are likely to see more of these extreme weather events in the future.

There is no single solution, and the challenge is bigger than any one organisation can tackle alone. That is why all levels of government, the organisations responsible for managing flood risk, businesses and the communities at risk, all need to be part of the decision making, pulling at all the levers at our disposal to meet the challenges of a changing climate."

You can view our storymap on https://arcg.is/1jWHXT or read all the reviews into the February 2020 Storms.