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Ronan's report

Sunday August 14th 2011

My river was in flood this week - almost out of control. As I drove up the valley on Thursday night the fields were lakes, out of bounds to man and beast, and the river was an angry succession of foaming chocolate waves forcing their way to the sea. The stream outside our house was finding a new route down the valley; something it must do every now and then, occasionally abandoning its old channel and carving a different path.

Now things have calmed a little, the water is clearing slightly and the stream is back to its old ways - weaving a sine wave down between the hills to the junction with the next tributary, and adding its weight to the watershed. The aftermath is plain: silt in the fields, dead grass halfway up a tree, and miles of bankside foliage flattened as if massive herd of idiot bullocks had trampled headlong and headstrong downhill with no thought but to follow the one in front.

It's a mess. A real clean-up job. But we can live with it. A combination of great emergency services and public goodwill will see to it.

We could stop all this happening. We could trammel the streams and rivers. Concrete them in. Keep them locked away and ignore them. Maybe we could build dams and let the waters out at a rate that suits us - smooth the flow. Someone in charge could take control. We could stop the flooding.

But we don't. We shouldn't. We live with the occasional disaster as the price to pay for letting the river run its course. The river, left to its own devices, can get to the sea quite effectively under its own steam thanks very much. Allowed to express itself, the valley is a wonder of flora and fauna - endlessly surprising and engaging, leading us on.

True, rivers need holding back occasionally, usually when we've screwed up something early in their lives - in the headwaters. Drainage or abstraction, or both, do a great job of messing with the flow. Sometimes we tinker with these nascent rivers so much that we have the worst of both worlds, worrying successively about drought and flood.

In times like this we need a steady nerve; one that looks beyond the here-and-now and which avoids the easy and the extreme. With good planning, communications, the best intentions, and yes, the occasional kick up the arse, we can live with the river in all its moods.


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