Water world

December 2004

Flooding is as much a part of Oxford life as the dreaming spires, although the torrent of tourists who cram the town centre during the summer would have little idea of this ancient Oxford tradition.

Opinion is divided as to what has caused this longstanding pattern of winter flooding. Certainly, part of the problem is that we have built homes on what was always the floodplain of the Thames and Cherwell.

However, bad management of water courses may also be to blame - there is a strong argument that, rather than building more channels to drain water away, we should have fewer and dredge the silted-up ones that already exist, as a loss of water pressure in existing channels makes them less effective.

We certainly have a long way to go before solving the problem of flooding in and around Oxford. However, we should not forget that flooded areas fulfil a valuable function - giving wildlife useful habitats in which to live and breed. And, of course, the Cherwell in full flood can be a beautiful sight, as Valerie Petts's painting of the river near Wolfson College shows.

Flooding has also been linked to global warming. In turn, global warming has long been linked to the emission of greenhouse gases. On a local level, we continue to build on the floodplain. Plans to build on the River Windrush floodplain have been in place since the late 1980s, thwarted by John Prescott's demands for an environmental impact assessment and the concerns of local businesses.