Thames flood alert is shape of things to come

By Mike Brooke mike.brooke@archant.co.uk THE Thames Barrier had to be closed for nearly three hours in the latest flood alert along the waterfront. Experts are now predicting it may soon have to be op

By Mike Brooke

mike.brooke@archant.co.uk

THE Thames Barrier had to be closed for nearly three hours in the latest flood alert along the waterfront.

Experts are now predicting it may soon have to be operated one a fortnight because of global warming.

Emergency services were on 'standby' along the riverfront on January 24 before the 'all clear.'


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The Environment Agency put 19 flood watches into force across London and the Thames Valley due to unusually high surges.

"We are having to monitor the tidal situation closely," warned the agency's flood risk manager Andrew Batchelor.

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"We'll close the barrier again should we need to protect the one-and-a-quarter million people living and working in London's floodplain."

It was the 107th time the barrier had had to go into action since it was completed in 1983. It was closed only four times more during the rest of the 1980s.

But worsening weather conditions means the barrier is now being activated more and more. Worst year so far for flood alerts was 2003, when it closed no fewer than 19 times.

Experts now fear global warming could mean the barrier having to be operated as many as 30 times a year by 2030.

But this increase was predicted when the massive structure, one of the largest moveable flood barriers in the world, was designed back in the 1970s.

London was regularly at risk of flooding even then, especially in low-lying riverside areas like Limehouse and Wapping as well as further upriver along The Embankment at Charing Cross.

Today, the Thames Barrier protects around 90 square miles of low-lying London, including Docklands.

But for how much longer? The results of a study looking ahead to the rest of the 21st century is due later this year.

The Environment agency, however, already predicts the barrier will have to be operated more than once a fortnight within the next 20 years, due to climate change.

Flood risk usually happens when spring and autumn high tides combine with freak surges of water up the Thames Estuary form the North Sea.

Trouble is, the 'freak' surges aren't so rare nowadays as global warming raises water levels worldwide and makes severe weather conditions more likely.

Flood risk can be checked on the agency's website: www.environment-agency.gov.uk

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