Water in the blood

Reducing the risk of flooding is a vital job. ANN HAVARD met a key player in the Environment Agency’s team

Protecting people and property from flooding is one of the Environment Agency’s top priorities and Robert Brown is one of the many people working to ensure that the risk of flooding is as small as possible. Robert is a flood risk management engineer working in the Essex technical support team in Chelmsford.

Robert has worked at the Environment Agency for 13 years having started aged 19 years surveying the Essex coast as a surveying assistant.

“Maybe rivers run in the blood as my grandfather worked for the Essex River Board and helped with the repair work after the 1953 floods.” Robert says.

In his day job, Robert works closely with the operations delivery field team covering the Colne and Tendring areas of north Essex.


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“I spend my day looking at issues along the coast and rivers, planning and designing work to reduce the risk of flooding.”

“Most of the work I deal with is repairs to existing defences and maintaining a free flow in watercourses. But I also go out and meet people who have been flooded and provide advice on how to minimise the risk of being flooded again.”

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“We also work with other professional partners including local authorities. Flooding can occur from many different sources and together we work out why it happened and how we can stop it happening again.”

During a flooding incident Robert also has role to play as one of the Environment Agency’s flood incident duty officers. This is a role that ensures the response to a flooding incident is coordinated and help is targeted where it is most needed.

Not all flooding incidents are caused by nature itself; unfortunately many of them could be avoided. Robert explains, “We have serious flood risk issues in some places because of people fly-tipping in ditches and rivers. Our team on the ground spend a lot of time removing blockages in urban areas caused by fly-tipping.”

“Of course rivers also fill up naturally with vegetation which in places needs clearing periodically to help reduce this risk of flooding.”

“The coastal defences which protect low lying areas from flooding are damaged by the pounding effects of the tides. The natural wavebreaks such as salt marsh are the ideal protection. Where this is not present then we use various man made solutions. At Jaywick we have built an artificial beach as part of the coastal defences, the most common approach is to protect the defences with concrete. These options can be very costly and we are looking at cheaper and more sustainable solutions.”

“We routinely check the tidal defences and watercourses which we oversee. And the public assist us by reporting major blockages and damage to flood embankments and structures by ringing our 24 hour incident hotline”.

“The Colne patch is quite varied, with the land at Jaywick all below sea level. People here still remember the devastating effects of the 1953 floods and we work hard to keep them safe.”

“Our work is a difficult balancing act, there are many different needs along our coasts and rivers: farmers, fishermen, sailors, homeowners and recreational activities. We have to try to manage all these different expectations and find the best solution, which at times can be challenging.”

Currently Robert is working on a project to repair seven watercourses in his area. Some of these have illegally piped sections; others are simply old failing structures. Some have sections where the pipes have collapsed causing regular flooding to properties.

“This is quite a big project which will cost up to about �80,000 and again it’s a balancing act – we can’t deliver everything but the decisions we make are based on the risk of flooding to people and their property.”

“I enjoy the challenges the job presents me with everyday, trying to help people and working with the rest of my team to find solutions for the problems we face every day. It’s really rewarding when you help to solve a problem of flooding for someone.” And of course we have to make sure that the work we do is done safely for our own staff and members of the public.”

Environment Agency website: www.environment-agency.gov.uk

Customer services line: 08708 506 506

Incident hotline: 0800 80 70 60

Floodline: 0845 988 1188

E-mail: enquiries@environment-agency.gov.uk

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