By: Andrew Tabas
On October 12, WSPM once again left Oxfordshire, this time to explore an artificial waterway created to control flooding on the Thames dubbed “the Jubilee River.” While Graham and Kerry from the U.K. Environment Agency (EA) praised the merits of the Jubilee River scheme, local councilor Ewan Larcombe criticized the project. Ultimately, the WSPM class learned that there are always two sides to every water management story.
From the EA’s point of view, the Jubilee River was a smart project that reduced flood risk in the surrounding towns. The major concern for the EA was the risk of the Thames flooding and causing severe damage to the densely populated surrounding area, especially the town of Maidenhead. After a careful review of four flood mitigation options, the EA decided to construct a second river that would run parallel to the Thames. In the event of intense rainfall, the water level would rise in both rivers but would not overflow in either. Although heavy precipitation after the Jubilee River’s construction caused flooding in the area, the EA is convinced that the region is better off with the intervention than without it.
The EA demonstrated several engineering accomplishments involved in the river’s construction. First, the river includes three adjustable floodgates that control its water level. Second, the EA constructed the river under a major rail line without stopping traffic. Engineers froze the embankment under the tracks and, over a period of thirty days, excavated twin holes and supported them with 8,000-ton boxes. Third, the Jubilee River construction project included the development of manmade wetlands that have environmental, recreational, and educational benefits.
On the other hand, local councilor Ewan Larcombe has spent the past decade protesting the creation of the Jubilee River. As he led the class along the river, he highlighted reasons that the Jubilee River was a poorly-executed and ill-conceived idea. In Ewan’s view, the scheme’s £110 million-pound price tag was far too expensive. In addition, because the river was poorly constructed, it has required additional repairs after its opening that have added to the cost. He also noted that his hometown has flooded three times since the river’s creation (which had never happened before in his lifetime) and showed the WSPM class the poor state of the embankment, which he believes is a sure sign that the river will flood again.
Ewan also had harsh criticisms for the river’s engineers. One section of the river near Eton college makes an abrupt turn that is far outside of standard width-to-radius guidelines for manmade rivers. As a result, the water level in the river has exceeded the artificial embankment in that section on several occasions. The Jubilee River’s strong current is also a threat to swimmers, demonstrated by several drowning deaths. Overall, Ewan argued that the EA should learn from its mistakes at the Jubilee River to avoid building expensive and flawed projects in the future.
The Jubilee River, like all government interventions, has supporters and opponents. At least the class was able to find one item with unanimous support: excellent sandwiches at lunch!