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Flood Forecasting Centre opens

May 22, 2009 at 4:19 pm

The UK’s first Flood Forecasting Centre was officially opened last month, as a result of the enquiry headed by Sir Michael Pitt into the devastation caused by the floods of summer 2007. The centre is a joint venture between the Environment Agency and the Met Office and aims to allow the two agencies to work together to provide early warnings for local authorities and the emergency services.

Prior to this new initiative, the Environment Agency was responsible for monitoring rivers at risk of flooding and the Met Office was responsible for providing information on rainfall. The new centre will have responsibility for forecasting not only river and coastal flooding but also surface flooding caused by unusually excessive rainfall.

Climate change was cited by spokesmen for both the Environment Agency and the Met Office as a leading contributor to the increased risk of flooding in the UK and, while this cannot be entirely prevented, an early warning system should minimise risk of loss of lives and damage to property. In the floods of June and July 2007 13 people died and 44,600 homes were flooded.

The centre, which has cost over £10 million, will operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is situated in Farringdon in London. Twenty six people work there, including weather forecasters and hydrologists.

The Pitt Review has also been responsible for £15 million being given to local councils to fund flood management. Much of the devastation caused by the 2007 floods could have been avoided had local authorities been better prepared.

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Solar powered water for farmers

May 15, 2009 at 4:15 am

Solar panels that power water pumps down on the farm were once reserved for farmers lucky enough to have plenty of sunshine in continents like Africa and Asia. The British farmer, who was brave enough to risk buying one, knew more than most how unpredictable the summers in the UK can be. Things are about to change though, thanks to some new technology that will mean even the clouds of a British August will result in the sun generating power and driving water pumps.

The SolarPump PS150, PS200 & PS600 models are new and improved water pumps from 4 Elements Ltd. They don’t require constant glaring sunlight to power the pumps and are very effective and easy to use. Farmers in the UK currently have to rely on either diesel powered pumps to irrigate their fields with water, which can be very impractical not to mention bad for the environment, or mains-powered pumps, which are tricky to install and very expensive to run. The improvement of solar powered pumps is a godsend for farming in the UK.

The pumps have only one or two moving parts so they are incredibly reliable and easy to maintain. When they’re at full charge, the products at the lower end of the market can pump an impressive 9000 litres every day. The more expensive models can manage double that. Prices start at around £2,000 and come with a large range of cables, pumps and heads, as well as installation instructions. They more than recoup their cost, even within the first year.

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A precise map of the water depth around the UK to be published

May 11, 2009 at 2:59 am

As an island, the UK is certainly not short of any coastlines. But sometimes the problem is knowing where the deepest areas of water are and which industries can benefit or not from certain depths. That problem has now been more or less solved though thanks to a remarkable series of maps which precisely display the depth of waters around the British Isles.

Thanks to some hard and lengthy work undertaken by a branch of the UK Hydrographic Office – which is part of the Ministry of Defence and provides mapping, charts and all manner of services for the Royal Navy and international mariners – called SeaZone, their Digital Survey Bathymetry has created a collection of maps using the very latest in marine technology. Instead of the old way of dropping a line to the seabed, SeaZone have used single-beam technology, which sends a sound echo through the waters to pick up the return of the acoustics and then measure the depths. They have also used the even more modern method of multi-beam, which is Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) that beams light and lasers to a surface and records the return in order to note the distance.

It’s very cutting edge and will be paramount to a huge number of industries working in the seas around the UK. The engineering world, especially the mining of oil and gas, will benefit hugely from the maps, as will the environmental bodies hoping to protect the shorelines, the fishing industries looking for target areas for their catch, and also branches of the emergency services and rescue teams.

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Water customers in the north-east could pay more in 2010

May 1, 2009 at 4:20 pm

It’s bad news for water customers in the north east of the country, as Northumbrian Water has just announced that it will be raising its water bills in 2010. It has just asked Ofwat, the water industry regulator, for approval to raise its charges by 3.4% for its customers next year, which is sure to prove a blow to many people currently struggling with their household bills.

The reason behind the need to raise the prices is the economic situation. The downturn has led numerous businesses in the region to use less water as a result, and this lower demand will mean that the company has to put up its charges. Northumbrian Water has also said that increased tax and business rate charges have added to its decision to increase its own costs.

It is a vicious circle, because now hard-pressed families are going to have to make up for it, and they are already struggling to pay their bills. The price rises are expected to come into force by April 2010, as long as Ofwat gives approval for them. Last year, the company proposed to raise prices by 1.3% above inflation, so this figure of 3.4% is way above that target and shows just how difficult the times are.

John Cuthbert, the managing director, said that the company appreciates this is “unwelcome news” for customers, and that they have done “all they can” to keep prices low. He also stated that the north east will still be cheaper than many other areas.

Regina Finn, Ofwat’s chief executive, said that consumers “are at the heart of our decision making”, and that they will do everything possible to make sure any price rises represent value for money.

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