Careful planning and tricky timing may be the keys to reducing the risk of floods, according to a new research project.

Scientists are investigating ‘soft engineering’ techniques to minimise the chance of flooding, by making small adjustments to the flow and timing of river contributions.

The project will change and hinder the natural flow pathways within a small catchment system to see what effect it has downstream.

“Employing so-called ‘soft engineering solutions’ to restrict the progress of water through a catchment – disconnecting fast-flow pathways and adding storage – we have been able to reduce the risk of flooding in the lower areas and, most importantly, in the town,” says research lead, Dr Mark Wilkinson from Newcastle University.

“These solutions could make a significant impact and potentially protect peoples' homes from some of the more severe flooding we are seeing at the moment.”

The Natural Flood Management program aims to restrict and reduce flows by combining four key mechanisms;

  • Storing water in dams, ponds, ditches and field attenuation bunds
  • Increasing soil infiltration through the creation of ‘infiltration zones’ to help water enter the soil at certain strategic locations
  • Slowing water by increasing resistance to its flow by planting in the floodplain or riverside areas
  • Redirecting water by channelling it away from the main flow into temporary storage areas until the flood peak drops or restoring river meanders

The tests have been undertaken in the UK, which is currently experiencing high levels of flooding, but the scientific testing of such techniques adds to the weight of knowledge for all flood-prone areas including Australia.