Water, Water Everywhere

Northern Ireland’s environment minister, Alex Attwood, has urged all of the ministers within the executive to take collective responsibility for climate change measures. Responding to a written question, Mr Attwood said that Northern Ireland is already experiencing an increased incidence of flash flooding as a result of climate change and that there will be an “increased frequency of extreme weather occurrences such as heat waves, dry spells, heavy rain and flooding” as the climate continues to warm.

The comments come at an opportune time, coinciding with images of Venice in flood hitting the newspapers. As tourists swam in St Mark’s Square or tied plastic bags to their legs in a bid to stay dry, the people of Venice were once again faced with the task of mopping up and drying out. A flood barrier scheme designed to protect the Venetian Lagoon from unusually high tides is due for completion in 2015 but in the meantime the city is open to flooding whenever the sea levels rise. In fact this latest flood, at 1.49m above sea level, was the sixth highest since 1872 and resulted in some 70% of the city being flooded.

But just as these incidents remind us of the potentially destructive power of water; in other news we are reminded that we can also harness water power as a force for good. The National Trust has opened a new hydroelectric turbine at Morden Hall Park in London. Expected to deliver some 59,000kwh per year, the Archimedes screw turbine, together with solar panels, an air source heat pump and a biomass wood-burning stove is designed to convert Morden Hall into one of the most energy efficient historic buildings in the country.

The first UK Archimedes screw turbine was installed at the River Dart Country Park in 2007 and the concept has proved popular with several other installations across the UK. Suitable for head waters as low as 1m the Archimedes Screw provides minimal disruption to fish and wildlife; making it an ideal choice for ecologically conscious sites. An Archimedes screw has even been installed at Romney Weir on the River Thames to provide power to Windsor Castle.

Whilst no amount of planning can reasonably cope with extreme weather patterns and flash floods, we could all respond to Mr Attwood’s call and play our part in reducing the effects of climate change. We may not all be able to install Archmedes screws to generate power but we can look to taking steps to reduce power consumption or look at other ecological power generation measures. Every journey starts with a small step but if we all take that step who knows where the journey may lead.