Tears And Rain

Expert Voices | September 6, 2014, Saturday // 14:28|  views

Old pedestrian bridge and Forty Martyrs Church ?at Veliko Tarnovo in June this year. Photo: Philip Clayton

Novinite.com reader Philip Clayton shares his expert suggestions on reducing the risk and dealing with floods.

As I sit watching the global news and change channel to get away from the horrors of war I see that yet again Bulgaria has been bombarded by storms and heavy rainfall with the village of Berkovitsa the latest community to be declared a “State of Emergency”.

I have witnessed some horrific flooding in and around my home town and region, Veliko Tarnovo this year, and having a late father that worked for one of Britain’s Water Authorities, I cannot help but wonder where does this flooding problem stem from and how can the risk to life and property be better mitigated?

There would appear to be two entities responsible for maintaining rivers, streams and drainage channels/culverts here in Bulgaria, municipalities/local/national government and land owners.

Land drainage is a complex area of responsibility, but in short, my understanding is that a landowner is responsible for the drainage of their land. In the case of culverts/drainage channels, streams and rivers it is the landowners each side of the watercourse (known as “riparian owners” in many countries of the world) who are responsible for the maintenance of the watercourse itself and the flow within it. Therefore, if your property/land is adjacent to a watercourse of any description you are presumed to be a riparian owner and should be maintaining it regularly. This will have the benefit of reducing the risk of flooding from the watercourse at times of bad weather for both landowner and neighbours.

So for example, in the diagram below, even if the legal title documents for property owners A and B indicate that the extent of ownership of their respective lands is only to the boundary fence or hedge, those owners may still have “riparian” rights and responsibilities up to the centre of the watercourse, if the land between the water’s edge and their boundary is regarded as the bank of the watercourse and no one else owns that land.

The problem is that many landowners (especially with land adjacent to watercourses proving more difficult terrain to develop agriculturally) leave it to become overgrown and inaccessible. Some have left the region since land was repatriated to them or their family and owner occupiers of small holdings have little enough money to maintain the roof over their head, never mind adjoining watercourses!

Consequently in order to be prepared for the inevitable future floods and to mitigate damage to communities and properties central and local government could do worse than to consider the following initiatives for affected property and landowners and regions highlighted at risk:

Top Priorities

  • Short cycle skills training and kits for recovery and construction-related skills

  • Rapid launch and implementation of finance programmes for enterprises

  • Temporary employment formation which will benefit the community and create a cohesive footing for future local enterprise

  • Enhance access to innovative employment services

  • Enhance the capacity (software and hardware) of public and private local business service providers such as utility companies, Telecom companies and Bulgaria Post, as well as financial service providers

  • Capacity building and optimization of local institutions and entrepreneurs, including a Training of Trainers on “Multi-hazard Business Continuity Management"

Short-term needs after flood affected areas

  • Revitalisation of Small to Medium Enterprises in the flood affected municipalities would include provision of finance and rehabilitation of basic business facilities

Medium-term needs

  • Reintegration of the flood affected enterprises into the value chains to boost local competitiveness

  • Country-wide available finance to the private sector to upgrade production standards and stimulate entrepreneurship

The majority of recent flooding is caused not only by inadequate maintenance, but by a lack of capacity in watercourses or culverts. Consequently if municipalities introduced a system of inspection and clearing of watercourses and culverts at key locations throughout their regions and take action where they become aware that there is a risk of flooding, for example, where there is an obstruction which may block a river and cause flooding to other property, or to float downstream and become entangled in a bridge structure damaging it and rendering unusable.

A pro-active response would be that the Government mandates that Municipalities publicise every two years their reports on flooding events, measures proposed and measures executed to reduce flood problems, including construction of new flood prevention schemes and renovation of existing schemes.

Ensure municipalities publicise their plan (in high risk areas) which allows for the co-ordination of rest/overnight centres for people evacuated from their homes during severe flood events and arrange temporary accommodation if needed.

In order to implement flood protection the following Top Priorities and Key Recommendations should be implemented where currently not.

  1. Survey of dams and reservoirs

  2. River and culvert survey

  3. Create landslide databases

  4. Measures for improved planning (hydraulic/torrent modeling on principle water courses)

  5. Dam and wall reconstruction and repairs as necessary

  6. Reinstate river and culvert profiles and repair erosion protection

  7. Stabilise landslides

  8. Repair/maintain critical pumping stations

  9. Reconstruct/repair weirs

This year’s flooding has had a tremendous impact on our rivers, significantly altering the landscape and worse, causing new flow patterns. Trees were uprooted and river banks torn away, resulting in a considerable amount of silt and other debris accumulating along the river banks. Here in Veliko Tarnovo I can see that the Yantra River has its fair share of uprooted trees and debris in it from the June storms and floods. I believe that some action needs to be taken here as well as other Bulgarian cities and towns based upon best practice which I believe could follow the lines of:

Natural regeneration should be allowed to occur along river banks, using locally found seedling establishment and other new growth. Additionally, natural woody debris left in place is a natural component of a flood-shaped ecosystem. This material will slowly disappear into the new growth and provide habitat for wildlife species. City’s , town’s and village’s should be striving to restore river banks, pathways cleared of debris and made safe to walk on.

Cleaning should be focused on manmade debris such as tyres and floatable plastics and cutting into small pieces uprooted trees in the river flow patterns to reutilize in repairing banks where appropriate along with removing concrete pipes and structures from damaged outfalls. Loose, woody materials located above the typical high water level should be assessed as to whether they would be likely to dislodge during high water future floods and spring flood water. A hotline for residents to contact should be initiated where not available currently to help identify specific locations that need debris removed and the Municipality will assess the area and take action if required.

The response of Municipalities to meet the immediate needs of their citizens during floods has been admirable from what I have witnessed here in Veliko Tarnovo. However, if these risk assessments and measures are incorporated into National and Regional plans in Bulgaria and the Balkans, the loss of property, land and more importantly lives will be significantly reduced during future periods of extreme rainfall and storms, which appear to be more and more frequent.

Philip Clayton, Key Facilities Management Ltd

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Tags: flooding, Veliko Tarnovo, land drainage, river, survey, Dam, repair, state of emergency, Berkovitsa, flood, water


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