Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects to economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our Student James Rooney makes this connection in Paris, France. This current event was reported in The Economist, on January 31st under the title, “Why Paris is all wet again”, by The Economist Explains. The River Seine runs through the heart of the capital of France, and in recent years has seen its banks burst by increasingly frequent flooding events. In 2016, the Seine swelled 6.1 meters in accordance with heavy rainfall across northern France. This event pales in comparison to the flood of 1910, where the Seine swelled to 8.1 meters above its normal depth and flooded the streets of Paris for nearly two months. While the flooding seen in Paris is not unheard of, Parisians are weary of an event that could mimic the effects of the flood of 1910 and impose billions of dollars of damage on one of the most important cities on the European Continent. Measures to mitigate a catastrophic flooding event have been explored by the French Government and will be implemented in the coming years. The plans to mitigate flooding effects in Paris is validated by Sebastien Maire, the new Chief Resilience Officer in Paris, as cited in an article by The Guardian, titled “It’s when, not if: but will Paris be ready for the flood of the century” written by Kim Willsher. Maire explains that recent flooding in Paris is indicative of the fact that Paris is not prepared to handle a flooding event similar to that of 1910 but lays out a three-step plan as to how Paris can further their efforts in preparation.

In January of 2018, 1,500 people were evacuated from their homes in Paris due to rising flood waters when the River Seine reached 5.8 meters above its normal flow depth. For some residents, it is the eighth evacuation in twenty years. As the city of Paris has grown, more and more impervious surfaces have been emplaced, leading to increasing volumes of runoff into sewer systems. With nowhere for the water to go in a highly impervious urban landscape, high intensity rainfall events pose serious issues for flood mitigation in the city. Maire states that to help combat flooding effects, areas surrounding the River Seine should be refurbished to include more greenery and permeable surfaces to help soak up flood waters. Maire also states that the current flood monitoring system emplaced in the Seine should be upgraded to give the city more time to react to a historic flooding event. In this case, flood mitigation falls under the WRE sub discipline of hydrology. This article is important news for WRE because other cities across the world will likely look to Paris as an example for the mitigation of flooding events via the implementation of urban greenery and a limitation of impervious surfaces in urban areas. I do believe that while The Economist has done a good job explaining the issue of flooding events in Paris, The Economist Explains could provide a more comprehensive set of suggestions for Paris and how it can further mitigate flooding risks along the River Seine.

Figure 1. In 2016, the Seine Rose 6.1 meters, flooding the streets of Paris. The Eiffel Tower can be seen in the background.

Paris is the capital of France, and one of the most popular cities in the world. A flooding disaster would be catastrophic to this city and poses enormous potential economic consequences. As a major tourist attraction, flooding could also destroy parts of a historic city, leading to a cultural and societal loss for the world. Estimates from the OECD, a forum for High Level Risk events in Europe, say that a major flooding event similar to that of 1910 could cost the French government over 30 billion Euros to recover from, neglecting the effects on local businesses and tourist attractions. While this event does have damage implications for the city of Paris, it does also have environmental implications for the flood plains south of the capital, as a century flood could pose huge issues for sediment deposition in farm lands south of Paris, leading to crop failures and economic downturn for the area.


The Economist Explains. Why Paris is all wet again. The Economist. Published January 31, 2018.