Flood defences and drainage works have been carried out since Roman times, during which time reclamations from the sea and the cultivation of previously inhospitable and unproductive land have shaped the landscape of large areas.
The open vistas, a feature of lowland Britain, with the network of open channels, provide a truly man-made environment which enjoys a special place within the topographical interest of the Country.
It is an artificial haven for people, plants and wildlife alike - a flat marshland with the marauding tide kept at bay by the constant efforts of man.
The land use of those areas within the Drainage Board Districts is totally dependent upon complex systems for Flood Defence and Land Drainage. Without such systems the development of homes and factories, the provision of public services and productive use of farmland, would not be possible.
The Country is as dependent as Holland upon Drainage Authorities maintaining and updating these systems. This work is vital to protect millions of people who live and work in these areas and to retain the industrial and agricultural production within them.
Extensive areas, including major centres of population and industry, are at risk of being flooded from the sea, rivers and smaller watercourses. Major events have been recorded through history and it is an exceptional year when no significant property flooding takes place.
The risk of flooding will never be removed but can be minimised with the proper management of the flood defence and drainage systems.
Less obvious problems affecting property are those caused through high water levels within drainage systems which lead to the water-logging of surrounding areas. This can affect both the buildings themselves and put at risk the vital services which serve the area, such as highways and pipelines, the stability of which would suffer under prolonged waterlogged conditions.
All the Country's best farmland is within drainage dependent areas, where the combination of workable soils, flood protection and water level control has created a major national resource.
The work of Drainage Authorities conserves this landscape and land use through the maintenance of river channels, embankments and drains, retaining areas of environmental interest, while protecting people, commerce and food production.
In these areas, man has also created a range of habitats within which wildlife can flourish. The variation in habitat is invariably created as a result of differing approaches to the management of the flood defence and drainage systems. Indeed, many works constructed for these purposes are of international importance as wildlife habitats. Sites of Special Scientific Interest, created by man not nature, abound in these drainage dependent areas.
The responsibilities for the management and maintenance of flood defences and drainage systems in England and Wales have been placed by Parliament in the hands of different types of Drainage Authorities. Like other public bodies, changes are continually being made but, at the present time, the main authorities are those referred to below.
Drainage Districts have been established in the most drainage sensitive parts of the Country being the low-lying areas, much below sea level, constantly at risk from flooding. The Drainage Districts, administered by 200 Drainage Boards, vary in size from a few hundred acres to over 100,000 acres, aggregating in total to some three million acres, thus, unlike other Statutory Authorities which blanket-cover the Country, Drainage Boards only administer Districts which directly benefit from their operations, which include the improvement and maintenance of rivers, drainage channels and pumping stations.
Over two million acres of land, including large areas developed with residential and industrial property, depend on pumping stations to evacuate water to prevent permanent flooding and water logging.
In all Drainage Districts, it is of paramount importance that open drainage channels are regularly dredged and vegetation controlled. In some districts, underground storm water culverts need to be kept in good repair and maintained.
Without all these essential works the environment and conditions for persons living and working in the areas would become intolerable; everyone would suffer. Services would become inoperable, properties and gardens would be affected and prime agricultural land would be unable to yield the wide range of crops and this could create food shortages with associated price increases.
Drainage Boards have all the advantages of being locally based, providing a local service to the community with locally-elected members in control.
NRW has duties throughout the Country and, besides keeping a watchful eye on other Drainage Authorities, has direct responsibilities for much of the sea defences and the major rivers, including tidal sections, several extending many miles into the low-lying areas. They promote all improvement work to increase the standard of flood protection and drainage and ensure that all the works are adequately maintained. This maintenance is vital to retain the flood risk at an acceptable level and includes routine repairs and vegetation control to both sea and river embankments.
It is necessary to ensure that the flood carrying capacity of channels is not reduced and this is achieved through regular dredging and the removal of obstructions, including the seasonal weed growth, which, if unattended, would cause both short and long-term problems.
In particularly sensitive coastal and inland areas the Authorities have developed flood warning systems for use when defences are at risk of over-topping or channels are unable to contain flows.
All Drainage Authorities have general supervisory functions and powers. They can make Byelaws to ensure and protect adequate drainage systems and works like sea defences; they can require owners and occupiers of properties to remedy defects in systems, for example, where flows of water are impeded through defaults of persons; they control the erection of structures affecting watercourses and the culverting of watercourses which require their special consents. For new hard paved areas, the flow of rainwater increases to a rapid rate and an important role of Drainage Authorities is their participation in planning the development of land.
They consider the implications of proposals by assessing risks of flooding, both to areas subject to proposed development and adjoining areas; the effects on nature conservation and their advice is given to Planning Authorities and all other interested parties, including the C.C. W. and English Nature.
Their expertise is called upon to ensure that vital flood protection works are carried out as a necessary part of the infrastructure for developments, the Drainage Authorities themselves often undertaking the works.
Local Authorities are required to deal with matters which are beyond the scope of the individual. This need was first recognised in this Country in 1252, with the creation of the Romney Marsh Commissioners, whose corporate planning and combined effort was required to create a living and working environment within the Romney Marsh.
This model approach was repeated many times, particularly in the seventeenth century, and preceded by centuries any other form of truly local administration. These historic areas of drainage sensitivity are today with Drainage Districts, the Boards being the direct descendants of the early Commissioners with similar responsibilities.
The only thing that has changed over the centuries is that these areas are more populated, people's expectations in terms of flood protection are substantially higher, and the nation's dependence on the food produced within them has increased dramatically.
The need for a Public Authority to provide a service in areas dependent upon flood defence and land drainage was established long ago. The work of Drainage Authorities is today as vital as it has ever been.
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