Drowned in Subsidies: Do Public Funds Cause Floods?
|January 17, 2014||Posted by Staff under Environmental, Subsidies & Waste & Public Debt|
This 2014 excerpt of The Guardian, Jan 13, is by George Monbiot.
Vast amounts of public money, running into billions, are spent every year on policies that make devastating floods inevitable.
Water sinks into the soil under trees at 67 times the rate at which it sinks into the soil under grass. The roots of the trees provide channels down which the water flows, deep into the ground. The soil there becomes a sponge, a reservoir which sucks up water and then releases it slowly. In the pastures, by contrast, the small sharp hooves of the sheep puddle the ground, making it almost impermeable, a hard pan off which the rain gushes.
Full reforestation would reduce flooding peaks by about 50%. That means – more or less – problem solved.
But the common agricultural policy says, if you want to receive your single farm payment – by far the biggest component of farm subsidies – land has to be free from what it calls “unwanted vegetation”. Land covered by trees is not eligible. The subsidy rules have enforced the mass clearance of vegetation from the hills.
The problem is not confined to livestock in the mountains. In the foothills and lowlands, the misuse of heavy machinery, overstocking with animals, and other forms of bad management can – by compacting the soil – increase the rates of instant run-off from 2% of all the rain that falls on the land to 60%.
Sometimes ploughing a hillside in the wrong way at the wrong time of the year can cause a flood – of both mud and water – even without exceptional rainfall.
River managers believed that the best way to prevent floods was to straighten, canalise and dredge rivers along much of their length, to enhance their capacity for carrying water. They discovered that this was not just wrong but also counterproductive. A river can, at any moment, carry very little of the water that falls on its catchment: the great majority must be stored in the soils and on the floodplains.
By building ever higher banks around the rivers, reducing their length through taking out the bends and scooping out the snags and obstructions along the way, engineers unintentionally did two things. They increased the rate of flow, meaning that flood waters poured down the rivers and into the nearest towns much faster. And, by separating the rivers from the rural land through which they passed, they greatly decreased the area of functional floodplains.
The result was catastrophic. In many countries, chastened engineers are now putting snags back into the rivers, reconnecting them to uninhabited land that they can safely flood and allowing them to braid and twist and form oxbow lakes. These features catch the sediment and the tree trunks and rocks which otherwise pile up on urban bridges, and take much of the energy and speed out of the river.
The Pitt Review, commissioned by the previous government after the horrible 2007 floods, concluded that “dredging can make the river banks prone to erosion, and hence stimulate a further build-up of silt, exacerbating rather than improving problems with water capacity”.
The drained and burnt moors of the grouse estates in England, though they serve only the super-rich, receive some £37m of public money every year in the form of subsidies. Much of this money is used to cut and burn them, which is likely to be a major cause of flooding. Though there had been plenty of rain throughout the winter, the river was already low and sluggish.
That’s the flipside of a philosophy that believes land exists only to support landowners and waterways exist only “to get rid of water”. Instead of a steady flow sustained around the year by trees in the hills, by sensitive farming methods, by rivers allowed to find their own course and their own level, to filter and hold back their waters through bends and braiding and obstructions, we get a cycle of flood and drought. We get filthy water and empty aquifers and huge insurance premiums and ruined carpets. And all of it at public expense. Much obliged to you guv’nor, I’m sure.
Ed. Notes: Critics see what’s wrong with certain subsidies but now with subsidies in general. Yet as long as you let politicians and bureaucrats spend Other People’s Money without any serious backlash for making mistakes, what’s to keep them from making mistakes? Makes much more sense to end subsidies in general and just pay everyone a Citizen’s Dividend.
Raise the funds via taxes, fees, dues, leases, etc on land and resources. Such charges will keep land affordable for actual farmers and everyone. And since society spends so much for land and resources and EM spectrum et al, redirecting that spending into the public treasury then out into everyone’s pockets (via Land Dues and Rent Dividends), the populace will enjoy a comfortable cushion indeed and won’t miss and de-funded public “services”.
Further, an enlightened jurisdiction could also lose the counter-productive taxes on earning, purchases, and buildings, which would let the value of locations bloom, feeding more funds into an even fatter dividend for the citizenry. It’s geonomics and wherever tried, to the degree tried, has worked every time. Time to implement it again.