Washing away the chalk line

I’m watching the October rains washing away our chalk line, created by communities at flood risk throughout Bristol in September, 2014. But the interest in HighWaterLine Bristol continues to rise.

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I live in a flood risk zone, less than 5 metres away from the River Avon, which has the second highest tidal range in the world. On New Years Eve 2013, we and our neighbours received a letter from the local authority warning of flooding and advising emergency procedures. 2014 began with the west coast of the UK being pounded by torrential storms, the Somerset levels became inland seas and people fled their homes under threat of inundation. Massive storm surges combined with the highest tides for nearly 20 years. The surges battered our coastlines and disrupted lives across the country.

The next day the barrier came

We were shocked and relieved all at once. The family of 10 in the end house had been flooded out at the beginning of the millennium, evacuated for 4 months, separated and housed and schooled in other parts of Bristol and even other cities. I can’t imagine how I would feel if my kids had to be apart from us or each other for that long.

Avon Cres winter 2014

On January 3rd we awoke to the river pooling against the flood barrier. Surprised and alarmed, all the neighbours gathered together and walked down the street. Together we watched water cascade over the harbour wall by the Pump House. There were swans swimming in a local car park. TV cameras came, flood tourists invaded. The twice daily threat of flooding over 72 hours left us exhausted.

After the flood

As the last high tide flowed out to sea in mid March we felt relieved, but confused. We thought we understood the river and the risks. A few days later I came across HighWaterLine by chance and felt I had found a way to answer our questions. Over the following months I joined the growing number of Bristolians who live or work on the line. We spent many hours discussing the risks, examining the maps, the data and what it all meant for us. We devised ways to work together to draw our pale blue line.

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Chalking the High Waterline

Chalking the line was scary but exciting. We had hundreds of conversations with people all over the city – explaining how Bristol has an amazing system of water management, engineered early in the 1800’s, designed to float boats, it also serves as our primary tidal flood defence. In other areas chalkers discussed underground rivers and drains. Conversations flowed to include other climate change anxieties and the adaptations we could make.

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I feel excited to be part of a global art project exploring what is, after all, a global issue. Living on the line raises many questions:

  • What threat do changing water levels bring to communities at risk?
  • What can communities do to help themselves and inform others?
  • What can we do to get the authorities to work with us on solutions and treat us as equal ‘experts’ ?

Here in Bristol we believe we have found a way to work together and we want to continue sharing our knowledge to help communities build resilient solutions and share our experiences with the world.

Taking steps for the future

As I left the house one morning in early November, workmen were knocking down the wall of our neighbours’ house. These neighbours have endured flooding and evacuation. The local authority are re-building resilient defences that the Georgian’s integrated into the design by strengthening the wall and putting in a flood gate. A small construction job will save a family of 11 from being re-housed and £1000’s of pounds worth of public money. There are a lot of smiles on our street today!

  • Do you live in a flood risk zone?
  • Do you talk to your neighbours about your worries?
  • Are there ways you think homes and businesses could be defended
    better?

If you would like support or information please get in touch.

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