Two years ago, Wales felt the full force of the deluge of rainfall triggered by Storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge, leading to the most significant flood events seen in this country since 1979.

We saw how destructive the rising flood waters can be for people, homes and businesses, and how the distress and costs can last far beyond the subsiding of the waters.

February 2020 was later confirmed as the wettest February on record, and the fifth wettest month since records began in 1862. It was also the fifth wettest winter on record.

The National Wales: Storm Dennis as seen via satellite in February 2020Storm Dennis as seen via satellite in February 2020

Climate scientists have long predicted that our impact on the world would mean more extreme weather records being shattered.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report published in August last year signalled a ‘code red for humanity’, stressing how human activity is changing our planet’s climate in “unprecedented” ways.

Those impacted by the February 2020 floods will know all too well that the climate shockwaves are already being felt right on our doorsteps.  Our thoughts are with those still recovering and rebuilding today.

One of Natural Resources Wales’ (NRW) primary roles is to reduce and manage flood risk from main rivers and the coast in Wales. We do that by building and maintaining flood defences, improving access to information on flood risk and advising on planning decisions. We also warn and inform when flooding threatens, deploying our teams on the ground to work with partners to reduce flood impacts in communities.

Our defences reduce flood-risk for hundreds of thousands of people in the 73,000 properties across Wales that benefit from defences. Investments made to these crucial pieces of infrastructure since previous major flood events have significantly improved our resilience, and reduced the risk of flooding for the communities that surround them.

But just as climate change and flood risk is progressive and layered with uncertainty, how we invest in and manage our defence options also requires flexible responses, accepting that we cannot build our way out of the risks we face – particularly here in Wales.

From its steep-sided valleys to exposed coastal areas, Wales’ varied terrain poses significant challenges when it comes to managing the consequences of heavy rainfall.

When considering how to defend areas most at risk, NRW will always work with local communities to identify the best combination of measures to tackle specific threats.

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In the north, major work is underway to make sure Wales’ largest natural lake remains safe in the long-term. Embankments around Llyn Tegid in Y Bala reduce the flood risk for people and property in the town and the Dee Valley. Work is underway to strengthen the embankment and to improve the lakeshore wave protection to ensure it can withstand extreme weather now and in the future, while also bringing other environmental and recreational enhancements to the area.

Further south, our urban areas also face their own challenges.

The Crindau area of Newport has a long history of flooding. Backed by the Welsh Government, our £14 million Crindau Flood Management scheme is designed with climate change and predicted sea level rise in mind. The scheme can be adapted as necessary in future, and includes community benefits such as new footpaths, cycle paths and seating areas.

Finding a flood risk solution for the village of Dinas Powys in the Vale of Glamorgan that was acceptable to all parts of the community formed part of an extensive consultation process. The village is at high risk of flooding from the Cadoxton river and its tributary the East Brook, yet a viable scheme that has broad community support has yet to be found.

Options to build flood walls in the village, or to develop an upstream storage system were not favoured for reasons including potential impacts on woodland and walking routes in the area, and cost.   

However, the option to deliver smaller, natural flood management measures across the catchment was favoured by many. While this approach will not provide the same level of flood risk reduction as the other measures put forward,  NRW is committed to working with the community to further explore this approach and to move forward positively in the ambition to reduce flood risk in this area in future.

But we all have a responsibility to know our own flood risk and to take personal responsibility to protect ourselves and our property before the rain starts to fall.

The National Wales: Clare Pillman is the Chief Executive of Natural Resources WalesClare Pillman is the Chief Executive of Natural Resources Wales

Just because flooding hasn't happened to you in the past, it doesn't mean it won't happen in the future.

When we published our reviews into the February 2020 floods, we called for a seismic shift in how Wales responds to climate challenges and increased flood risk.

We stressed that difficult conversations needed to be had, and complex decisions had to be made.

The central focus given to climate change in the Welsh Government’s Programme for Government, and the emphasis placed on mitigating future flood risk in the Co-operation Agreement between Labour and Plaid Cymru are all welcome strides forward.

We also welcome the additional funding received to increase our own capacity to prepare for and respond to flood incidents.

But while progress has certainly been made, the climate problem has also accelerated.

We must accept that we will never win the war against the forces of nature. But there also has to be a fundamental consideration by governments, flood risk authorities and communities of the very stark choices before us on how the risks are managed and delivered within the resources.

Flood defences will always be at the heart of managing the nation’s risk.  But we need to accept that in some cases, there will be flooding.

Advances in the range of services available on our website means that people can now identify their flood risk simply by entering a postcode. It also includes information on what to do before, during and after a flood and how to sign up to NRW’s free flood warning system. Our new Flood Map for Planning also includes information on how climate change will affect flood risk over the next century.

We need to build or convert properties to be more resilient to flood water, so that people and businesses can bounce back quicker when the waters start to rise. 

READ MORE: Does Wales need a National Flood Agency?

We’ll also need to be more innovative and look at new approaches to work more effectively with landowners to make space for the huge quantities of water we are seeing during floods. 

These can be difficult, expensive issues with no silver bullet solutions.

But Wales will need to shift gears urgently to ensure we become more resilient. NRW will continue to invest in our people, infrastructure, systems and processes to undertake our flood risk duties, but we cannot do it alone.

The impact of climate change is something for all of us to tackle as a collective and is an issue that must be tackled without delay.

Clare Pillman is the Chief Executive of Natural Resources Wales.

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