In a week where the state is expanding access to our medical records I feel this is particularly relevant.
We've been dealing with the EA for four years and what we've endured has not impressed at all. Beyond the details of our individual case - some general features about the way the EA go about their duties relating to environmental data sets have become clear. This plays into their reactions to the recent (2013/2014) flooding and the recovery effort from the inundations.
We have requested river level data and received a spectrum of responses from the EA - all hinging it would appear on what leverage the EA perceive they have from withholding that data - from simple but tardy delivery in an inappropriate format to obstruction and delay on a fairly epic scale. I am not alone and a Google of the subject will turn up a quantity of disgruntled folk who've similarly tried to access publicly funded data and been similarly obstructed and quoted extraordinary sums of money for access. The EA's organisation of data is chaotic in the extreme - lame is one word that keeps coming up...
In the particular case of flooding in the Somerset Levels (and it is a particular case) some things are indisputable.
The first thing I feel bound to say is that occasionally natural variation in rainfall will cause some inundation of low lying areas - this is not predictable with precision long term but there is a record of past event frequency and magnitude - so flood planning should be informed by this and not by unverified "projections" - moving on....
The present state of environmental monitoring is inadequate and in the 21st Century it is not acceptable that critical public assets are effectively hidden - it is simply not acceptable that The Environment Agency has much of the data and considerable technical assets - and they do not in my opinion exploit this situation in the public interest - it is usually only selectively exposed for PR purposes.
They have or have access to:
Precision LIDAR altimetry
EA Geomatics Group
The Geomatics Group LIDAR
EA Rain Gauges + Rain Radar
EA Flow Gauge Network
River Level Monitors
EA level monitoring Somerset (looks remarkably sparse on The Levels)
Very sparse info
Met Office Assets
Rainfall Radar link to calibration backgrounder
All the above can be integrated into a publicly available near real time mimic display available via the Internet. This is entirely do-able and industrial process control achieves similar tasks on a routine basis.
It strikes me that the inundation is measurable, the river flows and pumping are measurable, the rainfall is measurable and so on - and - that as a bare minimum existing EA assets relevant to the public interest and safety should be exposed as a matter of course and not withheld when embarrassing or simply ransomed to suit some "public sector enterprise agenda" (FoI). This data is acquired and paid for at public expense and should be shared with those paying for it.
Public data in America has broad visibility on the 'net and some extraordinarily impressive visualisations of enormous environmental data sets have been done by talented people familiar with the Amazon "cloud" in hours and in their spare time.
It is long past time that the Met Office and The EA in particular were compelled to expose that mass of publicly funded data (and "internet of things" / sensors) in a transparent fashion to enable people to see where they are - and where they're going. The public need this information and it's being - to my mind spitefully and deliberately withheld for nefarious purpose...
In the case of the Somerset Levels - look no further than Paul Homewood of the "Not a Lot of People Know That" blog who's an evidence obsessive - and he's actually had to FoI the Met Office for weather records.... One of the key
As to what can be done - the first step is public exposure and possibly a demand for a consistent and existing files standards compliant access mechanism to be set up. One data set required for flood analysis is LIDAR topography in February 2014 EA Geomatics charges ca. £120 per km^2 for this data -equivalent to £200K for the River Parrett catchment.
Anyway -something of a brain fart on my part - but really - the present situation isn't good and some unfortunate people have definitely suffered avoidable loss because information has not been available to them in either a timely or easily digestible format. Arguably the people of Tonbridge can be included.
The present situation almost qualifies as "self harm" - if transparency were unequivocal then properly evidenced and well reasoned policy would be self evident for the most part - public resistance to the impact of real changes in their situation would - one has to expect melt away to acceptance. What we have at present is ideology driving both the evidence and policy which is being force fed by PR pumps.
This public data retention policy has to end - and end soon.It would seem that some in government can see this.... Where public safety is concerned it's my contention that the relevant data should be provided under the OGL (Open Government Licence) and that the electronic availability of government data must be extended and the interface tidied up.
It's all part of the Blame game