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14th January 2020

Over the last 12 months researchers from the University of Sheffield have been collaborating with The Living with Water Partnership to explore whether the ordinary rain waterbutt can contribute to flood resilience

As part of the project, funded by the UK Climate Resilience Programme, the researchers interviewed residents living in Bilton and Derringham near Hull, where 8,600 homes were flooded in 2007 and trialled waterbutts on public buildings in the area.

Dr Liz Sharp, Senier lecturer in the department of Urban Studies and planning at the University of Sheffield, who has been leading the research said: "Our project is aimed to analyse whether people would be willing to consider taking on water butts to help protect the area from flooding”

“Supported by a strategic ‘climate resilience’fund, the project interviewed residents in two contrasting urban areas near Hull - Bilton village in the East Riding of Yorkshire, and Derringham in Hull. The overwhelming answer we found from both communities was ‘yes’. Subject to the limitations of practicalities, like the location of downpipes, people were keen to take actions which would help protect the area from flooding.”

Martin Armour one of the Portfolio Managers for the Living with Water Partnership commented: “Many people in the Living with Water region know that Hull is in a basin and all the rain that comes into the area has to be pumped out to keep the city dry. If there is really heavy rain, like there was in 2007, slowing the flow into the system could be a way of building personal resilience for communities in the city and beyond and water butts might be a part of that wider solution.”

Some of the initial findings from the interviews were that many interviewees were keen on the dual function water butt. This has a bit of permanent storage for residents’ gardens, but it also has additional space that collects water in a storm but drains away slowly after the storm.

Liz explained; “For water butts to help in the case of heavy rain, it is best if they are empty when the rain starts. We tried to find out the best sort of water butt and the best sort of communication in order to help water butts work to reduce flooding. Other people just wanted a simple water butt which they have control over, but stated that they would be happy to empty the water out if a text message informed them that a storm was due”.

Ruth Quinn, the engineering researcher on the project explained that both types of water butts worked well for flood risk reduction. “When we modelled the behaviour of the two systems, we found that there was a large reduction in the proportion of rainfall going from the roof into the drain for both the dual function water butt and the simple water butt which was emptied before it was needed”.

“Our project showed that people were keen to do what they can to help prevent flooding, but it also demonstrated some of the challenges of making such a project a reality.”

Social researcher for the University of Sheffield, Christine Sefton commented after conducting numerous interviews; “Everyone’s home is different, if Living with Water wanted everyone to have water butts then they would have to find a way of going to talk to people about the specifics of their home and their downpipes and what would make sense in their situation, which would need a considerable amount to resource. Most people would love to understand more about what happens when it rains and engaging to fit water butts into specific homes to help prevent flooding could achieve this.”

Lee Pitcher, General Manager of the Living with Water Partnership and Head of Resilience for Yorkshire Water concluded that: “Working with the University of Sheffield has been really helpful in supporting us continue the work we are doing with communities. Engagement and empowerment of people to tackle flood risk in a simple effective way is one step to building the resilience across the region and the outputs mark a big step forward in doing so.”

Asked what is going to happen next, Liz Sharp explained: “In immediate prospect, The Living with Water Partnership have committed to sourcing and installing up to 100 water butts in the communities we worked with on a first come first serve basis. In the longer-term Virginia Stovin, urban drainage lead on the project, commented that “we hope to extend our work from water butts to other household measures that can contribute to stormwater management, such as rain gardens or planters, which may bring a broader set of benefits to our urban environments”.

[1] The UK Climate Resilience Programme (https://www.ukclimateresilienc...) is a Strategic Priority Fund created by the UK Research Institutes. The funded project was NE/S016589/1 - Mobilising Citizens for Adaptation: building local flood resilience through cooperative rainwater harvesting (MOCA)


Yorkshire Water

Environment Agency

Hull City Council

East Riding of Yorkshire Council

University of Hull

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