Floods put spotlight on manmade water and landscape changes

Photo: CTK

The recent flash floods in the Czech Republic have focussed attention on how quiet streams could be transformed so rapidly into raging torrents causing destruction and taking lives. Environmental groups are putting the blame on manmade changes to rivers and the landscape. But while the Ministry of Environment is mapping out the risks, landscape changes to cushion the risks still seem a long way off.

Photo: CTK
The flash floods at the end of June which killed at least a dozen people and caused billions of crowns of damage has put the spotlight on how they could occur.

Of course, heavy rainfall is a prerequisite, but environmentalists say the country is also paying the price for past changes to iron out meandering rivers and get rid of the trees and plants that could soak up the runoff rainwater.

Zdeněk Poštulka is the water expert for the environmental group Hnutí Duha. He says that around 22,000 kilometres of Czech waterways have been shortened and altered artificially. And he points out, that only 5.0 percent of Czech streams and rivers have been deemed to have a good ecological status. But Zdeněk Poštulka says that’s not the only problem.

Photo: CTK
“We have another problem and this is the very bad shape of the agricultural landscape and forested landscape. And these two things are not considered to be problems by the water management authorities. If you consider the rainfall amounts, most of the rainfall falls down in the forested catchment area in the mountains and the forest management does not follow any rules to retain water and there are no obligatory standards”

Mr Poštulka says some crops in particular, such a maize, rape and sunflowers are unable to catch run off rainfall. The problem is particularly severe if the earth is damaged by reliance on fertilizers rather than traditional manure to feed these demanding crops.

The Czech Ministry of Environment is taking a first step to deal with floods risks in September. Then, in accordance with European rules, it will unveil its first assessment of where it believes the future flood risks are.

Michaela Brejchová is part of the flood prevention team at the ministry:

“In September this year there will be the first draft of these areas in the Czech Republic. We are trying to assess the last floods that we had so that will help us a lot to build the model situations in the software so that we can predict it better for the next time.”

But the assessment will only be completed in 2011and detailed flood risk maps drawn up by 2013. The tough decisions of what landscape changes might be necessary could only then start to be thrashed out with many interest groups looking to have their say.