Flood risk: making better infrastructure investments

Researchers at the Environmental Change Institute are helping evaluate and communicate best practice in national-scale flood risk analysis and long-term investment planning for flood management.

Thames barrier © Jack Torcello

Thames barrier © Jack Torcello

The FoRUM project – Flood risk: Building Infrastructure Resilience through better Understanding and Management choices – recently held two workshops to start a dialogue between scientists and stakeholders that make use of flood risk science in their work.

Paul Sayers, leading the project, explained: ‘understanding and assessing risk is a prerequisite to managing it. The ability of alternative investment strategies to reduce risk – at a regional, national or even international scale – presents particular challenges.’

The two workshops helped identify these challenges, compare alternative approaches and distil lessons from across different sectors.

The project has engaged academics and industry partners from the UK and Netherlands (including the Environment Agency, Network Rail, Rijkswaterstaat and Thames Water), as well as leading consultants from the flood and reinsurance sectors.

At the first workshop ‘Broadscale risk models’ stakeholders and researchers took an in-depth look at current methods for modelling national-scale flood risk. A second workshop aimed to get stakeholders up to speed on the most recent advances in planning long-term investment in infrastructure.

There are many different types of infrastructure that help reduce the damage caused by flooding; physical structures such as embankments and floodgates, as well as ‘natural infrastructure’ such as introducing greenspaces or managing beaches. A key challenge for water utilities and government agencies is deciding what investments to make, given uncertainties related to future flood risk.

While there have been significant developments in the last decade in how decision-makers address future uncertainty in investment planning, current practice still lags behind the latest thinking in academia. The FoRUM project is a significant step in bridging this gap.

The findings of these workshops are already influencing the future development of the tools used by the Environment Agency to support its Long Term Investment Scenarios (LTIS). Dr Jon Wicks, CH2M HILL, who is leading an Environment Agency project to scope the next generation LTIS tools, said: ‘the FoRUM workshops have been very helpful in highlighting alternative approaches and how they might be taken forward into practical application.’

The project is led by Paul Sayers and Jim Hall at the Environmental Change Institute, with support from Edmund Penning Rowsell (School of Geography and the Environment) and Rob Nicholls (University of Southampton). It is funded by Natural Environment Research Council’s Environmental Risk to Infrastructure Programme (ERIIP).

Presentations from speakers at the workshops are available to download via the links below.

Visit the FoRUM project webpages
See presentations from FoRUM Workshop 1: Broadscale risk models, Tuesday 17 March 2015
See presentations from FoRUM Workshop 2: Long term investment planning | Tuesday 5 May 2015