14 November 2016 12:43

Lancaster University in partnership with environmental consultancy JBA has won a UK Government competition for innovation in reducing flood risk.

The competition, launched by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs,  challenged flooding experts to come up with innovative and practical solutions to managing flooding risk in the Eden River catchment in Cumbria, where Lancaster University researchers have been working for many years.

Lancaster Environment Centre (LEC) scientists supported specialists from JBA Consulting, the UK’s leading technical consultancy on flood risk management, which has a long term research and training partnership with the University.

Their winning entry looked at how natural flood  risk management (NFRM) such as tree planting and improving soil structure, can be mixed with more traditional approaches to reducing flood risk such as increasing storage of floodwaters, enlarging river capacity and improving flood defences at a catchment, and property, level.

It took a new approach to flood risk analysis, similar to the approach to risk used in the insurance sector: testing mitigation strategies not only against what has happened, but against what could happen, across a wide range of historical and potential extreme weather events.

Using innovations in modelling and data analysis, it generated new evidence about the costs and benefits of working more closely with nature to manage flood risk within the whole river catchment. It also developed methods to improve flood forecasts and provide real time information to communities at risk of flooding.

The work built on JBA’s innovative flood models, which simulate the flow of water through the landscape, and two joint Lancaster/JBA research projects. The first, by Professor Rob Lamb and Professor Jonathan Tawn (Department of Mathematics and Statistics), assesses the statistical likelihood of extreme flood scenarios. The second ongoing project, for the Rivers Trust, predicts how flood water can be effectively held back within streams and rivers.

Dr Nick Chappell from the Lancaster Environment Centre said: “There is a lot of enthusiasm for natural flood risk management, but up to now there hasn’t been systematic research to provide evidence of how well they work and in what context. Our collaborative work in the Eden is starting to provide this evidence.”

Dr Barry Hankin, from JBA who led the winning team, said “By mixing advances in computer modelling and data analysis with local engagement, our aim has been to help develop realistic flood risk management proposals that can combine working with natural processes with other, more established ways of building resilience against flooding.”

The new methods will help to deliver on a recommendation by MPs that measures like this need to be a key part of protecting against the risk of flooding. They also fit in with the Government’s recent National Flood Resilience Review, which highlighted the scope for further developments in flood modelling.

The prize comes in the wake of another major accolade for the JBA/Lancaster partnership. A professional training programme, run jointly by the two organisations, has just gained accreditation and high praise from the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM).

The Post Graduate Certificate in Flood and Coastal Risk Management is devised for people already working in the water and environmental sector, who are taught alongside students on Lancaster’s MSc Sustainable Water Management.  

Following a two day visit to the University, CIWEM praised the course’s “unique” collaboration between academia and industry, the “full integration of research and innovation with the taught modules”, as well as the “excellent library facilities” and “laboratories for demonstration of practical work.”

CIWEM said that “students spoke very highly of the course and in particular its direct relevance to industry and the transferrable experience the course offered to take back into the workplace.”