This week the European Environment Agency (EEA) published a new report on ‘Green infrastructure and flood management — promoting cost-efficient flood risk reduction via green infrastructure solutions’, which outlines the challenges and opportunities posed by using more environmentally friendly options to bolster defences against river flooding. The report looks specifically at six case studies on the Elbe (Germany), the Rhône (France), the Scheldt (Belgium) and the Vistula (Poland) river basins, and points to the potential, in terms of suitable space, for restoring floodplains alongside them.

River floods and flash floods remain one of the most frequent natural hazards in Europe. Around 20% of European cities are vulnerable to river floods. Increased urbanisation and soil sealing, along with wetland conversion or degradation, have contributed to increased run-off and flood risk and the frequency and intensity of floods are projected to increase over the coming decades due to climate change. This poses an increased risk to the economy, built-up infrastructure and human health.

For centuries, efforts have been made to control flooding across Europe. These efforts have mainly been different types of man-made structures, and while these can significantly help reduce the risk of flooding, they often come at a sizeable financial price and at a cost to local water absorption capacity, wildlife, fish and river ecosystems. Their construction has also raised the risk of floods further downstream due to higher or cumulating water peaks and higher water speed.

Limited budgets, updated European regulations and policies on water, agriculture, climate adaptation, and climate change itself are driving the push for more sustainable and lower investment solutions to address the challenges posed by flooding. Using green infrastructure like floodplains and wetlands are cheaper investments. They need little to no maintenance and are much more environmentally friendly than cement dams or barriers, which can pose problems for local ecosystems. Such sites can provide benefits beyond flood protection, such as carbon sequestration, homes for wildlife, recreation opportunities and clean water.

The report says that more needs to be done to improve knowledge, experience and capacity in adapting building regulations to include nature-based solutions for flood defences in many EU Member States. It also notes that much better coordination on flood management plans is required between upstream and downstream areas and between countries that share rivers to enhance decision-making and implementation of green infrastructure for flood risk management.

Read the full article by EEA here

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement No. 730052 Topic: SCC-2-2016-2017: Smart Cities and Communities Nature based solutions