January 27th, 2014

Wanaka tree

Floody Hell! Again

Since just after Christmas, this is what my outside world has mainly consisted of. The floods are back, some villages are cut off completely, some roads - big and small - are inaccessible and the whole region is under emergency measures (whatever that means.) For a while we were a news story; for a while we had national sympathy and international attention. Then a new story comes along, the reporters take off their wellies, get back into their cars and head off to somewhere more glamorous, even though nothing has changed.

And every day that it rains, however little, delays any improvement by at least a day. This won't change for quite a long time. Until we get three dry weeks the waters won't recede. And as it is, the weather here sort of reminds me of a holiday in Scotland in July I once had, when it was almost constantly 4 degrees with horizontal rain.

I've lived here most of my life. In fact, my ancestors have been here for hundreds of years, and almost certainly much longer than that. I know this area and I'm familiar with the way it works. The floods are no surprise to me. Some areas of the levels would flood every few years when I was a child. Some areas were deliberately flooded in a controlled way to spare others. But these days the floods seem to happen more and more, covering more areas every year, and more times each year, than ever before.

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There are lots of reasons for this, I suppose; high tides, strong winds, but the main one seems to be that the Environment Agency, in a bid to save money, has stopped dredging and maintaining the rivers that drain this reclaimed wilderness. If it hadn't been drained in the Middle Ages, this area would still be the swamp that Alfred the Great famously fled to as a hiding place in the late ninth century. It seems to be heading back to that. If the rivers aren't managed, rainfall can't get away, and this is the result.

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