Prime Minister announces £75 million for IDBs to recover and modernise

Prime Minister announces £75 million for IDBs to recover and modernise

On Tuesday 20 February, the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak announced new funding for internal drainage boards that protect agricultural land and rural communities from flooding within his address to the NFU Annual Conference in Birmingham. Sunak promised an uplift in funding to IDBs to help areas recover from recent flooding events and modernising infrastructure to lower costs for farmers and increase their resilience to climate change.

Later in the day, Chair of the Environment Agency, Alan Lovell, said: “£75 million has been allotted by the government today to work with IDBs, both to repair some of their equipment, which has been damaged in the recent floods, but also to do more looking forward.”

It is therefore likely that the funding may be split between two distinct purposes:

  1. Storm recovery – assisting with IDB operational expenses following the winter storms of 2023/24, repairs to pumping stations, watercourses and other assets, and
  2. Investment to modernise and upgrade IDB assets/waterways for the future – modernise them, making them more efficient/effective, sustainable, environment friendly, to diversify the outcomes they achieve for lowland landscapes and communities.

Whilst details of the proposed fund remain to be determined, ADA hopes that it will present an opportunity for IDBs to demonstrate what they are capable of as custodians of their lowland water environment, and boost their resilience to climate change. The funding has the potential to be made available to IDBs for their wider water level management functions beyond the narrow lens of grant in aid for flood risk management, which is currently very one dimensional being focused on flood defence outcomes for people and property. Instead, this could point towards something more akin to the approach taken by water boards in the Netherlands, curating the Dutch water landscape for the betterment of society and the environment in the face of a changing climate.

The outcomes achieved by enhancing IDBs’ management of water levels within their districts could include better preservation of productive soils, retaining water resources for our drier summers, creating linear wildlife corridors that enhance our nature networks, adapting to climate change, reduce carbon emissions and increase energy efficiency and use of renewable power, and underlining their importance to create resilient lowland landscapes.

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement, ADA is very grateful to the many IDB officers who responded to an urgent request we made, in order to highlight to Defra the range of modernisation projects that IDBs could potentially deliver. Some of the projects that Boards are considering include:

  • Creating bermed channels to increase water storage capacity, reduce the impact and prevalence of bank slips, increase marginal habitat, and ease maintenance access.
  • Renewable energy infrastructure at pumping stations to reduce carbon emissions and the reliance upon national grid capacity for baseload operations.
  • Pumping station resilience measures for sites that may receive repeat flood inundation from main river, raising electrical supplies and control panels, installing one-way valves, and providing safe access to sites during flood conditions.
  • Remotely operated tilting weirs replacing old timber stopboard structures that are key to IDBs’ water level management function, with solar powered tilting weirs to allow water levels to be retained more dynamically to benefit the local environment and abstraction, and at the same time increase downstream flood storage capacity.
  • Rationalisation of pumping stations by increasing the capabilities of nearby stations and creating adequate watercourse connectivity, which would reduce running costs and achieve carbon savings.
  • Water storage facilities to store excess water taken during winter months and high flows to feed back into the lowland watercourse network during drier weather.
  • Energy efficiency works at pumping stations, including telemetry automation, enclosed Archimedes screw pumps, and variable speed drives, to enable finer control of water levels within lowland pumped catchments and increase energy efficiency.
  • Energy monitoring systems that could be combined with the existing telemetry systems to better understand energy use at pumping stations remotely, enabling IDBs to identify opportunities to use less electricity and plan future works.
  • High-level gravity outfalls to allow washlands to continue to store floodwater, improve the return of floodwater to river in preparedness for repeat storm events, and reduce carbon emissions and electricity use associated with IDB pumping activities.
  • Channel daylighting to remove inappropriate culverting impeding flow and reducing the efficiency of terminal pumping efforts that limit the evacuation of flood waters from a washland and consequently inhibit its use during repeat storm events.
  • Remote Water Level Monitoring replacing gauge-boards with remote, solar/battery operated, water level monitors to allow more detailed data to be gather for modelling.

On going to press, no timescales had been set for either bidding for, receiving or spending the new funds. However, ADA would urge IDBs to actively think about the opportunities for better water level management within their districts to benefit from this fund, and aim high for those changes that could make long lasting material differences to the functioning of their districts and watercourses for generations to come, helping to unlock the potential of their unique lowland landscapes for agriculture, communities, infrastructure, and the environment.