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High-Risk Surface Water Flooding: A Comprehensive Guide

In this article, the readers will learn about high-risk surface water flooding.

An overview of high-risk surface water flooding

Mitigation strategies for high-risk surface water flooding

UK Regulations on Surface Water Management

A Case Study of flooding in the Cumbria Region, UK (2009 and 2015)


The UK’s recent exposure to extreme weather patterns has resulted in the devastating aftermath of high-risk surface water flooding. Ageing drainage infrastructure and an accelerated urbanisation process have increased vulnerability to flooding in numerous areas.

This exposure poses significant risks to countless homes and businesses, leaving them susceptible to severe damage. Furthermore, the escalating impact of climate change on the country’s weather patterns exacerbates the threat of surface water flooding, making it an increasingly severe and pressing issue.

This all-in-one guide provides practical and comprehensive advice for individuals and organisations alike. It covers everything from identifying flood-prone areas, creating emergency plans, and implementing preventive measures. Whether you’re a homeowner, business owner, or part of a local authority, the knowledge and tools within this guide can help you reduce the impact of surface water flooding and increase the safety and resilience of your community.

Understanding High-Risk Surface Water Flooding

Communities can face catastrophic consequences due to high-risk surface water flooding. To avoid this, it is essential to understand the causes and impacts of such flooding and the methods available for its prevention.



Risk Assessment of Surface Water Flooding


Surface water flooding is a significant issue in the UK, resulting from excessive rainfall, urbanisation, and insufficient drainage systems. Urban regions with a high concentration of impermeable surfaces, such as roads, buildings, and car parks, are more prone to surface water flooding. The UK government has developed a flood risk map highlighting areas susceptible to surface water flooding, allowing residents to gauge their risk levels.


Intense rainfall and snow melt that surpass an area’s drainage capacity can result in surface water flooding, causing water to accumulate on the ground. This can lead to flash flooding, significantly threatening homes, businesses, and infrastructure.  The UK government warns that more than 3 million properties in England are vulnerable to surface water flooding; that figure is more than the flooding risks from rivers and the sea (2.7 million). To minimise its impact, it is crucial to identify its root causes and take proactive steps to mitigate the risk.

Risk Assessment of Surface Water Flooding

The probability and intensity of surface water flooding are anticipated through diverse risk assessment modelling techniques, including hydraulic modelling and GIS mapping. These create the surface water flooding risk map which for part of strategies for surface water flooding prevention.

Flood risk assessments provide critical information for developing flood risk management plans. These plans may include flood warning systems, land use planning, and infrastructure upgrades to mitigate flood risks. Besides, the Environment Agency offers an action plan on surface water management that discusses;

  • Current surface water management practices across the country
  • National strategy for surface water flood risk mapping 
  • Retrofit sustainable drainage systems (SuDS), green roofs, permeable pavements, and rain gardens
  • Infrastructure resilience 
  • Future surface water scenarios 
  • Local community engagement and awareness, and so forth. 

Mitigation Strategies for High-Risk Surface Water Flooding

With high population density, urbanisation, and a changing climate, the risk of surface water flooding is a significant concern in the UK. Experts conduct risk assessments to identify vulnerable areas and develop flood management plans to mitigate this risk.

Mitigation Strategies for High-Risk Surface Water Flooding
Mitigation Strategies for High-Risk Surface Water Flooding

Flood Management Plans (Pre- and Post-Strategies)

Various pre- and post-flood management strategies are implemented in the UK to reduce the impact of high-risk surface water flooding and minimise damage to infrastructure and property.

Pre-Flood Strategies

  • Deploying sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) to manage surface water and mitigate flood risks.
  • Establishing flood warning systems and early warning mechanisms to notify at-risk communities.
  • Advocating the utilisation of natural flood management techniques, like wetland restoration and tree planting, to decelerate water flow and diminish flood risks.
  • Encouraging responsible land use and development planning to steer clear of construction in high-risk flood zones.
  • Equipping individuals and businesses with flood risk maps and information enables informed safety and property protection decisions.
  • Erecting flood defences, such as barriers, walls, and flood gates, to safeguard vulnerable communities and vital infrastructure.

Post-Flood Strategies

  • Conduct a comprehensive damage assessment to determine the extent of flooding impacts on affected areas, including infrastructure, homes, and businesses.
  • Develop an inclusive flood recovery plan that encompasses immediate emergency response, temporary housing solutions, and long-term support for individuals and communities affected by the floods.
  • Implement flood mitigation measures, such as upgrading flood warning systems, enhancing flood defences, and enforcing resilient building codes, to minimise future flooding risks.
  • Foster community participation and engagement in flood risk management strategies to promote awareness and preparedness for future flood events.
  • Provide financial assistance and resources to support the recovery and rehabilitation of affected individuals and businesses.
  • Collaborate closely with local authorities, emergency services, and other stakeholders to ensure a coordinated and effective response to future flooding incidents.
  • Promote sustainable land management practices that minimise surface water flooding and reduce the impacts of climate change on flood risk.

The UK government website offers guidelines for managing surface water flood risk, encompassing pre- and post-flood approaches.

Emergency Response Plans

Emergency response plans are crucial in mitigating the consequences of surface water flooding. These plans include:

  • Clearly define and communicate emergency response protocols while assigning specific responsibilities to relevant personnel for effective execution.
  • Monitor and alert the people or property owners of high-risk surface water flooding areas promptly.
  • Identify and assign safe locations as temporary shelters and evacuation centres to assist affected communities.
  • Deploy emergency response teams, including rescue services, to provide immediate aid to flood victims.
  • Develop contingency plans to minimise disruptions to essential services such as water and electricity during floods.
  • Establish effective communication channels with the public and stakeholders to provide timely updates on flood conditions.
  • Foster collaboration with local authorities, community groups, and other stakeholders to optimise emergency response efforts.

In 2016, the National Flood Resilience Review pinpointed multiple areas that needed improvement in the UK’s emergency response to surface water flooding. These included upgrading flood warning systems and strengthening communication with the public during emergencies. The UK official website is an excellent resource for further details on the UK’s surface water flooding mitigation strategies and emergency response plans.

Green Infrastructure 

Green Infrastructure Design
Green Infrastructure Design

Green infrastructure is a practical strategy for mitigating surface water flooding in the UK. By leveraging natural features like green roofs, rain gardens, and wetlands, it’s possible to manage and lower stormwater runoff. Beyond reducing water volumes, green infrastructure has additional advantages like enhancing biodiversity, purifying the air, and generating recreational spaces.

Sustainable Drainage System Designs (SuDs)

Sustainable Drainage System Designs
Sustainable Drainage System Designs

Sustainable Drainage Designs (SuDs) offer an innovative approach to alleviate surface water flooding in the UK. SuDs employ various measures to regulate rainwater flow, reduce environmental impact, and manage excess water. Permeable pavements, green roofs, and rainwater harvesting systems are examples of SuDs techniques that retain and absorb rainwater. Additionally, detention basins provide a controlled release of surplus water. SuDs implementation prevents drainage systems from being overwhelmed, minimising environmental and infrastructure damage. The government’s website is a valuable resource to learn more about SuDs.

Community Education and Awareness

Educating the public and raising awareness is crucial to mitigating the UK’s surface water flooding risk. Communication of vital information like flood warning systems and emergency procedures is necessary. The goal is to foster personal responsibility and decrease vulnerability to flooding. Communities can help by frequently clearing debris from drainage systems, refraining from constructing in flood-prone areas, and creating a thorough flood plan.

The Environment Agency’s website advises engaging communities in flood risk management, such as implementing educational programs and awareness campaigns.

UK Regulations on Surface Water Management

As a UK resident, you likely recognise the significance of adhering to surface water management regulations, which safeguard our environment and prevent flooding for our communities’ safety.

Here are some of them:

The Flood and Water Management Act 2010

The Flood and Water Management Act 2010 is UK legislation focused on enhancing flood risk and surface water management. It aims to provide a comprehensive framework for managing and reducing flood risks, improving resilience to climate change, and strengthening sustainable water management practices.

 Some of the key features of the act include:

  • England’s government has developed a comprehensive National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy to manage the risks of flooding and coastal erosion. This strategy outlines the government’s approach to minimising the impact of these natural disasters on communities and infrastructure.
  • Local authorities must create and disclose plans for managing flood risk. These plans must outline potential flood risks, their impacts on the surrounding areas, and specific measures to manage them.
  • Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) have become the preferred method of managing surface water in new developments consisting of multiple properties. This shift towards SuDS as the default option promotes eco-friendly drainage solutions that mimic natural water processes, reducing flood risks and improving water quality.
  • Lead Local Flood Authorities (LLFAs) was established to manage surface water, groundwater, and ordinary watercourses to minimise local flood risks.
  • LLFAs have the authority to identify regions that demand local flood risk management actions and enforce the execution of those actions.

National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy for England 

The UK’s National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy outlines the government’s plan for managing surface water. Its primary goal is to mitigate the risks of flooding and coastal erosion while simultaneously enhancing the resilience of communities and infrastructure to the effects of climate change.

Key features of the strategy include:

  • Between 2021 and 2026, a significant amount of £5.2 billion has been allocated for implementing measures to manage flood and coastal erosion risks. This investment is expected to bolster the resilience of vulnerable areas and safeguard communities from the devastating impacts of natural disasters caused by flooding and erosion.
  • Collaborative efforts between the government, local authorities, communities, and the private sector are paramount. Effective partnerships can lead to enhanced outcomes and greater efficiency in achieving shared goals.
  • Employing natural methods like reforestation and wetland rehabilitation can effectively mitigate the risk of floods.
  • New flood risk management guidelines will be established to maintain uniformity and excellence throughout the nation.
  • Enhancements to flood alert systems involve the innovation of advanced technologies and increased integration with social networking platforms.
  • Enhancing community resilience requires prioritising community involvement through effective educational initiatives and engagement efforts.

The government has taken steps to create a nation that can withstand flooding and coastal changes. The complete strategy is available on the government’s website, detailing its vision for a more prepared and resilient country.

Local Flood Risk Management Strategies

In the UK, managing surface water floods falls under the jurisdiction of national and local policies and laws. The Flood and Water Management Act 2010 mandates local authorities to adopt a risk-based approach to mitigate and develop localised flood risk management strategies.

Some of the key features are:

  • Utilising advanced techniques to identify vulnerable regions and create comprehensive flood risk maps.
  • Formulating effective surface water management strategies to mitigate flood hazards.
  • Promoting sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) to manage and control surface water runoff.
  • Offering timely flood alerts and developing efficient emergency response plans.
  • Encouraging community involvement and fostering active participation in flood risk management initiatives.

Case Study: Flooding in the Cumbria Region, UK (2009 and 2015)

In 2009 and 2015, the Cumbria Region of the UK was hit by severe floods that resulted in significant damage and disruption.

Here is the detail:

Description of the Event

In 2009, a deep depression formed in the Atlantic Ocean off the southwest coast of Ireland, producing powerful winds of 65-90 mph. The region experienced severe flooding due to heavy and continuous rainfall that measured over 312 mm within 24 hours. This was the highest level of rain ever recorded in the United Kingdom. 

In December 2015, the region was hit by Storm Desmond, causing heavy rainfall for 48 hours and levels peaking at 341.4 mm. As the catchment was already saturated from previous storms, excessive runoff flowed into the rivers, leading to widespread flooding. 

Impact on the Community

During the November 2009 deluge, heavy rainfall caused extensive flooding. The flooding affected approximately 1,800 properties, with Cockermouth, Keswick, Workington, Kendal, and Ulverston being the worst affected areas. Over 1,500 individuals required evacuation from their homes or businesses.

In 2015, Storm Desmond caused devastating floods in Cumbria, surpassing the damage caused by the 2009 flood. The impact was widespread, affecting over 5,000 homes and businesses and leaving tens of thousands without power. In addition to homes and businesses, infrastructure suffered severely, with multiple bridges collapsing and major roads and railways closing.

Response and Recovery Efforts

In 2009, the Environment Agency coordinated the response and recovery efforts, working with the police, fire service, and local authorities. The focus was rescuing people, providing emergency accommodation, and restoring essential services. 

In 2015, the Cumbria Local Resilience Forum led the response and recovery efforts, which included representatives from local authorities, emergency services, and other agencies. The focus was on supporting people affected by the floods, repairing damaged infrastructure, and improving flood resilience for the future. 

Lessons Learned

These events prompted valuable insights that improved the UK’s flood defences and emergency response strategies. The Environment Agency, for instance, invested in flood defences and enhanced flood warnings for residents, while local authorities devised emergency plans and improved their ability to respond to such disasters. 

Moreover, the National Flood Resilience Review identified areas for further flood response and recovery enhancement. Additional information regarding these initiatives is available on the official government website.

Final Thoughts

In the UK, high-risk surface water flooding poses a significant threat to communities. A comprehensive understanding of the potential risks and effective mitigation strategies are essential to minimise its impact. This requires conducting risk assessments to identify vulnerable areas, implementing suitable infrastructure and land use planning measures, and promoting community education and awareness. 

A proactive and collaborative approach to flood risk management can enhance resilience and protect communities from flooding. Everyone has a crucial role in reducing surface water flooding risk by staying informed, being prepared, and working together toward a safer and more resilient future.

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Picture of Argemiro Rivera, <b>BEng(Hons) MSC CEng MICE MCIWEM C.WEM CEnv</b>
Argemiro Rivera, BEng(Hons) MSC CEng MICE MCIWEM C.WEM CEnv

Passion for Water, Flood Risk & Sustainability
I love to dig into complex flood risk and water engineering projects and deliver them. I focus on delivering reliable flood risk information to protect livelihoods and the environment.

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