The Flood and Water Management Bill gained Royal Assent on 8 April, almost three years after the summer floods of 2007 and two years after the Sir Michael Pitt Report. The Act comes into force with cross party and national support to address many areas of surface water and drainage ambiguity that have arose due to evolved legislation.

The Flood and Water Management Act will now address many of these issues, in part, providing accountabilities and responsibilities for the roles of Local Authorities, Inland Drainage Boards, Environment Agency, as well as water companies.

The events of summer 2007 broke inertia in political inaction to consider and address the causal factors of surface water flooding management. The scale of interest and impact from the 2007 flood waters was not new, though the consequences of when and where the events occurred were. The Pitt Report published actions focusing on planning, resilience, mitigation and clear need for accountability. The resulting legislative framework needed to clarify accountabilities and establish responsibilities to collaborate, cooperate, work together for the benefit of the communities that we all serve. It has done so.

The Act will implement several key recommendations of the Pitt Review, protect water supplies to consumers and protect community groups from excessive charges for surface water drainage and management. The Act is not without its challenges as a result, none less than the Act’s arrival in a period of significant economic constraint. The financial support from central government for local authorities to fulfil their leadership responsibilities for surface water and flood risk management within their communities and boundaries is needed. As with water companies, local authorities are faced with significant business plan stretches, and thus working in partnership, understanding the knowledge, experience, resource capability and systems available from partners around the table is essential to gain the most pragmatic and efficient outcome for mutual customers in the communities served.

How many of us though have stood in the front room of a customer’s living room, in wellington boots or waders amid flood waters inundating a family’s home? Dark, gloomy, silt and mud-laden waters inches deep above the floor boards, full of everything that we, as environmental managers and engineers, strife to protect our customers and communities from. Floodwater is full of everything that should not have passed through the front door, through the air bricks or back up the drains into the family home.

Too many of us no doubt and not one of us would envy doing so. However, with the Act arrives the clear accountabilities for event planning and emergency response leadership (local authority), strategic risk and planning support (Environment Agency), as well as responsibilities to co-operate and provide surface water asset data and information (water companies, IDBs and key stakeholders as appropriate, eg Highways Agency). Despite the legislation, unless all stakeholders meet and work rapidly in the spirit of the Act, ensuring that we can work efficiently and effectively together in pragmatic partnership, there will be more responsive support for flooded communities in future years. Given the scale of the challenge, efficient use of existing resource will be paramount to sustained success.

Realistically though, flooding is not a new threat, though with greater urbanisation, misdirected planning approaches (e.g. development of flood plains to meet housing targets) and rapidly changing climate dynamics, it presents a clear and present risk of increased likelihood and frequency. We need to establish robust working partnerships swiftly to prepare ourselves better for current decade events, as well as inevitable ‘climate change’ forecasted events. Surface water flood risk and management need is an important issue generally, specifically for urban areas and for communities downstream of large conurbations, subject to peak storm flow surcharges as a consequence. Despite this, it is also a significant issue for rural areas where the economic impact is less pronounced but equally significant for ecosystems that we depend on nationally to feed us and balance water sustainably. It is a particular and impending issue for the East of England given its low lying topography (many areas below sea level), long coastline (risk of inundation with storm surges coinciding with high inland river levels) and significant planned growth for the area (30% of national new housing forecasts).

Anglian Water’s Strategic Direction Statement highlights growth and climate change being the two most significant issues for the future sustainability of water and sewerage serviceability in the region. As a result, the company approved its strategy for surface waters management in March 2009. Planning for the future in East Anglia, given climate change projections having greatest national impact on eastern counties, is essential.  Since SDS publication, Anglian Water has been active both on policy development and “on the ground” since July 2009, working with councils and seeking to provide influential support for local authority (LA) led partner forums from their outset, as well as creating internal supportive governance for flood risk partner forums, to ensure that the number and nature of forums created are such that the company can serve these positively. The priority has been to help establish an efficient structure, as well as to establish the right behaviours and approach, as critical to making local flooding partnerships work effectively and with sustained success. This has been enabled through top team commitment in each partner member’s organisation to provide the right strategic and technically capable resource.

Working jointly with EA in their strategic lead capacity to establish a consistent regional approach, the initiative culminated in a joint EA/AW SWMP workshop in Ipswich on 14 January, with local authorities from across the Anglian region sharing best practice on approach resulting in an action plan to address identified issues. In addition, the workshop enabled Anglian Water to demonstrate its support for SUDS and launch of the company’s SUDS policy in advance of F&WM Bill enactment, whereby the company will consider adoption of SUDS structures that discharge to sewer.  There remain some regulatory blockers to “holistic” solutions (e.g. funding work beyond our asset base that is not recognised in PR09); the funding barrier whereby tripartite commitment might be the most pragmatic approach and where a water company could spend is not reasonable, given that the regulatory mechanism does not incentivise companies to do so. For long term success, an agreement on joint and more effective solutions are required.

Ultimately, working in partnership will be essential for collaborative success, creating the strength of relationships through understanding the issues and planning for the risks in each area. These relationships and the reservoir of trust established in the quiet years will be essential in the stormy periods and flood events, where knowing the area, risks, and likely courses of surface water through inundated communities, using the relationships established will be key. However, there is a significant effort needed to develop robust and sustained partner forums with each Local Authority in order to gain such success. As an example a water company’s commitment, what Anglian Water has done to date and continues to do to overcome challenges, through adopting a role of facilitation in a collaborative, prime stakeholder role, is one sure way to sustained success.