Why Bristol?

For at least the next few decades, the Bristol Channel is predicted to experience the greatest rise in storm-­surge height than anywhere else in the country, as a result of rising­ sea levels. This means that tidal flooding from the Avon is likely to increase in severity and regularity in the city and coastal towns.

Whilst there are many other places in the UK which face flooding impacts, it is widely known that you are more likely to be effective in creating change from your own community, and it was Bristol resident Isobel Tarr who decided that her home city was an important place to start UK HighWaterLine as it experiences many types of flooding. Heidi Quante from Creative Catalysts had already spoken with Isobel at an international environmental event about bringing the project to the UK.

What does the line actually show?

  • It represents the extent of flooding from rivers and sea (tidal and fluvial).
  • The line is not precise, but it represents approximately where a flood could extend to.
  • It doesn’t necessarily represent one huge flood, but all areas within the line are at risk from flooding.
  • It doesn’t include surface water (rain) or groundwater flooding, although these can all be discussed in the project

What’s the likelihood of a flood happening within the line?

  • This depends where you are on the HighWaterLine.
  • According to our data, our line will be met by a flood with the following likelihood:
  • 1 in 30 chance each year in some places, 1 in 100  in others, and some between 1 in 100 and 1 in 1000.
  • The above likelihood refers to the chance of the highest possible high water line (our Line)  being reached. The areas of the flood-zone which are nearer to the rivers usually have a greater chance than this.
  • This does not account for any changes that may already have affected the likelihood of flooding due to climate change. Whilst they represent some of the most accurate data available, they could be considered a conservative estimate for this reason.
  • On the map you can navigate to see the likelihood for each part of the HighWaterLine.
  • The line is an approximation derived from the most accurate data available but it is not intended to show the risk to individual properties.

Does that take existing flood defences into account?

In most cases, yes.

What does ‘1 in 30 chance’ really mean?

A ‘1 in 30′ chance of flooding each year means that if you lived in a house in this area for 30 years, then you could expect to experience a flood.

However, this ‘once every 30 years’ flood could happen twice in one year perhaps not happen for a long time. You could live there for 60 years flood-free and then see 2 floods in one month, for example. It’s not a precise prediction.

Where is your information coming from?

  • We have used the publicly accessible Environment Agency’s water maps. These are considered the most authoritative source by planners and are regularly used by local authorities.
  • With the help of Bristol University’s School of Georgraphy, we are using data from the UK Climate Projections CP09 plus readings from sea-level-rise in Avonmouth & Netham to make a rough estimate of the increased likelihood of the high water line being met by a flood in 2050.
  • Some additional aspects of the project (besides the line) make reference to Bristol City Council’s central Bristol flood maps which show flood heights in addition to changes in the size of the flooded area in the future.

What has already been done about flooding in Bristol?

The Bristol City Council Flood Risk Management Strategy details the work that has been done.

Isn’t flooding in Bristol already taken care of?

There are many areas of Bristol which have benefited greatly from flood-risk management solutions, such as the floating harbour, culverts and storm drains.

However, this doesn’t fully account for:

  1. Climate Change (see ‘Why Bristol’)
  2. Community resilience

Previous records of damage and recovery in the wake of disasters has shown that the strength of the weather impact (e.g. flood) is only one element which determines how hard a community is hit and how fast it recovers. In many cases, communities which were already prepared, or had other ‘resilient’ elements were the ones which bounced back or dealt with the disaster more effectively – even if they were more exposed to the flood or storm than others.

Both the Environment Agency and Bristol City Council are clear on the point that it is impossible to keep all areas safe from flooding all of the time.

We see this project as a chance to explore ideas and plan community resilience together, as well as uncovering new practical solutions

Is climate change really going to impact Bristol?

The latest IPCC 5th assessment report, hailed ‘one of the most robust pieces of scientific evidence in any discipline’, concluded: ‘No one on this planet is going to be un-touched by the impacts of climate change.’

Whilst the precise impacts are always uncertain in any location, authorities such as the Met Office, state the likelihood of flooding and rainfall increasing in Europe, most markedly in the UK and the South West. The UKCIP09 shows that the height of tidal storm-surge is likely to increase more rapidly in the Bristol Channel than anywhere else.

Sea-level rise in the Bristol Channel has been objectively measured as correlating to the degree of warming in the atmosphere, and there is no reason to presume it will not continue to increase.

However, we can reduce the human consequences and boost our ability to bounce back from a flood by making changes to our city and strengthening our communities ahead of a flood.

Does an art project like this ever really change anything?

Yes. HighWaterLine Miami lead to the creation of a group called Resilient Miami who are enacting real solutions which could save lives, as Miami sits within a hurricane landfall zone. These are initiatives which were not happening before the community decided to create some art together, and are a direct result of the conversations which the HighWaterLine began.

Pre-chalking, community participants in Bristol did so much research, developed a sophisticated understanding of flood risk in their community and city as a whole, and decided how and where they would chalk.

As a performance HighWaterLine is basically a conversation catalyst- a way of communicating with hundreds of people about flood risk, resilience and the impacts of climate change.

Beyond the Line in Bristol the conversations continue about how we can spread the message, influence resilience and help others to find creative solutions to flood risk.

What are the solutions?

Here are some things we’ve learned about so far in the course of the conversations we’ve had in Bristol.

We expect more ideas will come up on the days when we chalk the line, and after.

Join in the discussion! 

Who’s behind this?

Whilst the decisions about the whether, when, how, and why of HighWaterLine Bristol has been left up to the community members of flood-risk zones and other interested Bristolians, the project is co-ordinated by:

Isobel Tarr, Bristol resident and creative campaigner-type-person, who co-ordinated the HighWaterLine Bristol community team. She did all the community engagement and managed the project until the line was chalked.

Eve Mosher, Artist, New York – offers artistic support and digital and online media support

Heidi Quante, community organiser of HighWaterLine Miami and co director of HighWaterLine with Eve – offers community organising support

Anna Wilson, community participant living on the flood line, has been helping develop projects beyond the chalking, managing the documentation and helping with on-line presence

Chalking the Line in Bristol was presented by Invisible Dust, a not-for-profit organisation which brings artists and scientists together to create unique art about pressing environmental issues.

We have (non-financial) support and participation from a range of community groups as well as Bristol City Council, University of Bristol, U.W.E and the Environment Agency.

40 Community participants across Bristol were involved in planning and producing the line!

How are you funded?

The community engagement and chalking the line were funded by Arts Council England and by Lush Charity Pot up-to and including chalking. The Environment Agency are supporting our evaluation process. We are currently working voluntarily and are seeking funding for 2015 and beyond.

I don’t live in Bristol. Can I do a HighWaterLine in my town?

Of course! Get in touch to find out how!

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