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Climate change affecting drainage systems

Climate change is predicted to affect our planet in countless ways, many of which we can’t yet fully grasp. Melting ice caps and rising sea levels have been well-publicised, as has the possibility for wetter winters and drier summers. The prospect of these climate change effects alone are enough to conjure images of disaster movies, but their knock-on consequences are very real and far-reaching.

The cumulative effect of booming populations and climate change can hit big cities particularly hard. In this month’s article, we’ll be considering the potential effects on London’s infrastructure and drainage.

Rising sea levels

A recent US government report stated that by 2100, sea levels are predicted to rise between one and four feet. Levels will vary for countries across the globe – in part due to ocean currents – but even an increase of one foot is a significant difference. Not only will this encroach on coastal cities, it can contribute to increased flooding during stormy weather.

Whilst London isn’t a coastal city per se, with the Thames running through its centre, it is still vulnerable to rising water. Although the Thames barrier is designed to protect London from water insurgences, reports indicate it will need to be modified to continue to offer good protection in the face of rising sea levels.

Surface runoff and urban flooding

Climate change has the potential to bring wetter winters and greater rainfall intensities. It is, therefore, one of the key contributing factors to increased urban flooding. Big cities like London suffer from urbanisation during serious wet weather as great swathes of land are paved over with impervious substances like concrete. These substances don’t allow water to seep through like natural ground, meaning that water sits on the surface or runs off into drainage and sewer systems – both of these can result in flooding.

Sewer systems are only designed to handle wastewater and so if large volumes of surface runoff finds its way into the system, it can quickly cause overloading and flooding. What’s more, this surface runoff has often picked up pollutants, rubbish, heavy metals or sediments which are then channelled into water sources, contaminating them.

Victorian sewers

The industrious Victorian era shaped London as it is today and we can definitely benefit from an unmatched blend of old and new in the capital. However, even the rapidly expanding Victorian era couldn’t fathom the sprawling growth of London today. With London’s sewer systems largely Victorian structures, impressive as they are, they simply weren’t built to handle the city as it stands today. Millions more people, enormous amounts of concrete covering natural ground and a changing climate are all stretching the sewer system.

Plans to update and improve the London sewer system are underway but more can be done to help future-proof across the city. Any construction plans should seriously consider the impending ramifications of climate change and a building’s impact, not just on the city skyline, but on drainage infrastructure and sewer systems below ground.


1st Call Drain Clearance are drainage experts, helping customers across London with a wide variety of drainage issues. We offer a 24/7 emergency drain clearance and repair service to ensure problems can be swiftly solved, for your peace of mind. Whether you require drain re-lining, excavation or a CCTV drainage survey, we can ensure your drains run smoothly again as soon as possible. Get in touch with our friendly team today with any enquiries.

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