Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects to economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student, Emily Steenkamer, makes this connection in Rhine-Ruhr, Germany. This current event was reported on The Weather Channel, on June 1st, 2016, under the title, “Here’s What Caused the Deadly Floods in Germany and France,” by Tom Moore. This is likely real news because a similar news story was also reported by Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster.

This news regarding the extreme rain event that hit parts of Germany, along with other European countries, relates to water resources engineering because precipitation is a key factor in this particular field of engineering. It is essential to monitor precipitation because surface water hydrology, along with other related elements such as infiltration, interception, and depression storage, play an important role in engineering hydrology. Understanding rainfall events and how water moves across the Earth allows engineers to model rainfall events, predict runoff quantities and runoff distribution, along with numerous other applications. Extreme rainfall events, like the incident reported in this news story, are of particular interest to water resources engineers because large projects are often designed for these extreme events. The news story reported by Moore is important news for water resources engineering because the “omega block” storm phenomenon that occurred, impacting Germany and other European countries, caused extreme rain and resulted in immense amounts of flooding. Record-breaking rainfall transpired due to the storm, and the rain persisted for days, rather than occurring over a short duration, which would be typical (Moore, 2016). An extreme rainfall event such as this is important to study, especially for a megacity such as Rhine-Ruhr. Urban regions have a higher potential for flooding than rural areas due to the greater amount of impervious land cover that is typically seen in urban environments. Impervious areas – including city streets, sidewalks, roofs of buildings – lead to larger amounts of runoff, and runoff is an extremely important factor in engineering hydrology. This news story fails to make the connection between the massive amounts of rainfall that hit Germany and how the storm and the resultant flooding impacted natural systems such as the Rhine River. It is important to recognize the impact that the extreme rain event had on the river and other flowing systems. It is also important to understand how the runoff may have been distributed across the landscape and beneath the ground.

Figure 1. A submerged car in the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany is evidence of the disastrous flooding (DPA, 2016)

Economic, environmental, and societal issues are important to all areas of water resources engineering. These issues can specifically be related to the extreme rainfall and flooding events caused by the storm that was reported in this news story. Economic concerns can be related to this news in several different ways. For one, wealthier regions devastated by flooding are more capable of recovering from the storm at a quicker rate than poorer regions. Less wealthy people will have more trouble recuperating and returning to their daily lives post-storm. They may lack the means to repair or rebuild their homes, replace damaged vehicles, or perhaps start over completely, depending on how badly they were hit by the storm. Another aspect relevant to this weather event is the environmental issues that arise from extreme rainfall and flooding. A major flooding event like this can cause heavy erosion to waterways such as the Rhine River. Erosion to the banks and channel beds causes sediment to wash downstream, and in a case of severe flooding like this, that sediment will be swept across the landscape. Extensive flooding can uproot trees and can erode the soil beneath built structures, causing foundations to fail. Even after the excess water recedes post-flood, there is a potential for issues such as contamination caused by hazardous materials spread by the flood. This also relates to societal matters because floods can lead to a spread of disease and leave cities without clean drinking water (National Geographic, 1996). People can become ill from contaminated water, and homeowners can also become sick from mold growing in their houses that were saturated with water because of the flooding. A journal article entitled “Impacts of natural disasters on environmental and socio-economic systems: what makes the difference?” describes the effects that natural disasters, such as floods, have on the environment and on human lives. It is mentioned that natural disasters directly impact society and the environment, especially in developing regions, because of various factors such as deficiency of funds and/or resources or lack of precautionary planning (Mata-Lima, Alvino-Borba, Pinheiro, Mata-Lima, & Almeida, 2013). Extreme rainfall, flooding, and socio-economic and environmental issues are all interrelated and have a cause-effect relationship. Massive amounts of precipitation lead to flooding, which then impacts the environment and humankind. This can be a treacherous domino effect, and cities across Germany, such as Rhine-Ruhr, and other parts of Europe had to experience this recently.

References:

Moore, T. (2016, January 04). Here’s What Caused the Deadly Floods in Germany and France. Retrieved March 21, 2017, from https://weather.com/news/international/news/europe-flood-excessive-rain-blocking-pattern-germany-france

Deutsche Welle. (n.d.). Flooding in France, Germany expected to worsen | News | DW.COM | 02.06.2016. Retrieved March 22, 2017, from http://www.dw.com/en/flooding-in-france-germany-expected-to-worsen/a-19301965

The Local. (2016, June 1). Lower Bavaria district declares flood “disaster”. Retrieved March 22, 2017, from https://www.thelocal.de/20160601/lower-bavaria-district-declares-flood-disaster

National Geographic. (2012, October 09). Flood. Retrieved March 22, 2017, from http://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/flood/

Mata-Lima, H., Alvino-Borba, A., Pinheiro, A., Mata-Lima, A., & Almeida, J. (2013). Impacts of natural disasters on environmental and socio-economic systems: what makes the difference? SciELO Brazil, 16. Retrieved March 22, 2017, from http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S1414-753X2013000300004&script=sci_arttext&tlng=en

 

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