Edinburgh weather: Council says 'extreme weather' is to blame for flooding issues, not faulty drains

Edinburgh Council chiefs say Sunday’s ‘sudden, extreme weather’ left the city’s drainage systems unable to cope – as half of July’s average rainfall fell in just one hour.

Monday, 5th July 2021, 9:56 pm

Social media has been awash with videos and pictures of flash flooding throughout the city, and iconic areas such as Princes Street and the newly-established St James Quarter shopping centre have been badly affected.

However, Edinburgh City Council bosses have placed the blame on the freakish weather, and the capacity of the Scottish Water drainage systems.

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Councillor Lesley Macinnes, the council’s SNP transport and environment convener, said: “On Sunday, we experienced sudden, extreme weather – around half of the average rainfall for the whole of July fell in one hour. In situations like these, with the best will in the world, it’s impossible to avoid localised flooding.

“Not only is it not possible to predict such sharp downpours but our drainage system, along with the sewerage system maintained by Scottish Water, is simply not designed to cope with this.

“The fact water subsided after the rain eased demonstrates it wasn’t down to blockages but rather the fact drains were beyond capacity. In many instances gullies were also overcome by surcharging sewers – another sign that this was an effect of unusually intense water levels.

“We’re not used to this intensity of weather but, unfortunately, it seems to be becoming more frequent as climate change effects intensify.

Picture taken with permission from the twitter feed of @nicolaawilson showing emergency services helping vehicles which were stuck in flood water under a bridge in Chesser, Edinburgh, during stormy weather on Sunday picture: @nicolaawilson/PA Wire

“Our sympathies are with those whose properties have been affected and our teams are continuing to work tirelessly to minimise the impact on the city’s roads and to monitor river flows – our roads team clear gullies throughout the year and just completed cleaning the city’s most sensitive gullies.

“We’re now also developing a water management plan to identify the areas most at risk of flooding, and to consider what kinds of mitigating action we can take.”

When asked what can be done to improve the drainage systems, a council spokesperson said: “Rainfall of this nature is impossible to forecast and due to the very short time period it is impossible for the council to take preventative action.

“Whilst the Council will try to react to all flooding reports, this is not always possible and it is ultimately the responsibility of individual property owners to protect themselves from flooding.

“The council is developing surface water management plans to better understand the areas at risk of flooding from these types of events.

“In some areas it may be possible to construct or implement mitigation measures to deal with exceedance of the drainage.

“However, this will take time and the study is only likely to identify the main areas at risk, it will not provide preventative measures.

“Our Water of Leith Flood Prevention scheme is also proving effective at protecting properties – last night it was put into use with lower flood gates closed at Baird Drive and Stockbridge colonies.”

A spokeswoman for Scottish Water said: “We are dealing with multiple locations across Edinburgh, in the city centre and Stockbridge areas, where there has been flooding due to very heavy rainfall.

“The Met Office has reported that 40.6mm of rainfall was recorded in one hour at the city’s Royal Botanic Gardens – the equivalent of two thirds of the average monthly rainfall for July.

“In some areas the sewer network dramatically surcharged through manhole covers – an indication of the severity of the pressure put on the sewer system by the intensity of the heavy rainfall experienced.

“In recent years the Edinburgh area has experienced a number of very intense, short duration storm events which can put the urban drainage systems, including the sewer network and road drains, under significant pressure and at risk of being overwhelmed.

“This can have the unfortunate consequence of flooding that is beyond Scottish Water’s control.

“The complex nature of flooding across Scotland, with many agencies responsible for different aspects of the sewerage and drainage systems in our communities, means that a partnership approach is vital for reducing the risk of flooding.

“ We will continue to work with City of Edinburgh Council to understand areas most affected and how we can reduce flood risk from surface water flooding during these intense rainfall events.’’