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Calculating the cost of flooding on the Levels

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: January 25, 2014

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Environmental experts have invented a new phrase which attempts to describe the act of placing value on the things which nature bestows upon us. It's called eco-system-services and the people who operate within its sphere work at calculating the actual worth of things like clean water and air.

It may well be that a similar exercise should be put in place when it comes to calculating the real cost which increasingly violent and unstable weather is having on the wider economy.

Here is an example of one such equation… This newspaper has been to the flooded village of Thorney in the Somerset Levels where some 20 homes have been inundated. A local valuer has calculated that the insurance bill for each damaged property will average £50,000. That is a combined cost of roughly £1 million.

Last summer this newspaper also reported on a meeting where it was announced that the problem pinch-point area of the combined rivers Parrett and Tone could be dredged for an initial cost of £3.5 million.

No one, not even the angriest local farmer who wants the narrow waterway dredged, can guarantee that such an exercise would totally alleviate the flood problems. But everyone believes it would make a big difference.

The dredging was carried out for centuries – even through both world wars – so local experts certainly believed in its efficacy for many, many years before river clearance ceased.

What the people working in our new "climate-change-system-services" department would be tasked to work out would be the underlying equation of cost versus value.

We all pay for insurance claims through higher dividends, just like we all pay for the Environment Agency's dredging through our taxes.

As a one-off it would be cheaper to pay the insurance bill, but if flooding is to continue reaching higher parts of the Levels – partly because of a lack of dredging – then the equation would fall the other way.

At present those in charge of EA coffers are not interested in the accounts of private insurance companies, and vice-versa. But this rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul system will not be a logical way forward if violent weather events continue.

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