Here’s an idea for today’s #floodhack that would help people organise to prevent future floods by lobbying the people whose actions have led to the flooding: create a web service that allows people in low lying, flood risk areas find and lobby the people on higher ground who need to change their land use patterns to stop water rushing into rivers and creating floods. This is something that government data and modern web tools can easily achieve.
At the heart of flooding is a simple, powerful micro-economic problem: the people who are farming or building on upland areas in a rapidly-draining way causing a flood problem downstream don’t bear the economic costs of their actions. Indeed in many cases have no idea that they are part of the problem. Therefore there is no hope whatsoever of a ‘market’ solution unless this is somehow corrected – both information about what they are doing and internalising the costs to their production decision.
Here’s how it might work, ultra-simplistically. You enter your post code and are presented with a map of the drainage basin that might affect your flooding risk. The areas of the basin that have the wrong type of vegetation or ground use are coloured red. Areas that are controlled, built or in most cases farmed by one operator are singled out. You can then click to organise a group of people to meet up in that area or protest to the person/company or petition them or similar to change their land use practices. To help that person change you are given a play list of appropriate land use practices – eg plant trees instead of wheat, for instance and government support schemes to incentivise this. The service also records who is campaigning who to prevent overlap. And also networks together everyone who is campaigning in that drainage basin.
The aim is very much to allow people who are doing the wrong thing, even inadvertently, to meet with people this is affecting and start to feel the human impact of their actions. And then start to push them through behaviour change. Of course there are lots of holes in this, but the basic capability to answer the question ‘whose behaviour do we have to change to prevent flooding long term’ is invaluable however it is applied. Why not let a hack day loose on it instead of some turgid Rural Payment Agency/Environment Agency process)
What data sets would you need?
drainage basins (EA, Geological Survey and many hydrology academics)
rivers (not open as far as I know)
land ownership and leasing (land registry)
who farms which bit of land (Rural Payments Agency has this – different to who owns it)
agricultural incentive schemes (RPA again and related to people who farm which bit above)
house building and drainage rule sets/incentives (CLG – de-regulating planning and building regulations won’t help)
and you could plug in some simple organising tools like meetup or the pledgebank engine or any of the petitioning tools
Why would i suggest a tool like this? In order to tackle long term flooding problems major changes to land use will have to come about in the catchment areas that run-off too quickly due to house building or the ‘wrong’ sort of farming. The governance of Britain for hundreds of years has been dominated by land owners, particularly in the House of Lords. Governments historically have been poor at influencing landowners unless they pay them huge amounts of money in cumbersome and much mocked agricultural support schemes. In austerity times, there aren’t huge amounts of money and the current government is inimicable towards the CAP, with little negotiating credit in Europe. So i am pessimistic about this or any future government’s ability to drive affordable change up on the slippery slopes of drainage basins.
The government might crack this in the end, but the vested interest lobbies are horrible and the government’s tool set and indeed I dare say their own knowledge of who to act against, is weak.
So why not short circuit the government a bit and allow people who are at risk of flooding to organise themselves and campaign direct at the people whose practices are exacerbating the flooding?
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