7 Inventions and Ideas to Stop Flooding and Mitigate its Effects

From pop-up barriers to LiDAR flood prevention, these tools could change the future.
Trevor English

Flooding is a pervasive problem and one that is becoming worse as the world heats up. From the rising sea levels due to melting arctic ice to extreme weather events causing monster storms, populations along coastlines and in flood plains face flood threats like those never before seen

When it comes to flooding, there are essentially two ways to approach it: prevention or protection. 

Preventing floods involves proper urban planning, proper sea-wall construction, and proper home-building practices. Even with all of the prevention that goes into modern infrastructure, there are many cases where prevention just doesn't cut it. 


In those cases, what we need is protection. This can involve equipment like sandbags, or building temporary flood barriers, and the likes. Let's examine seven different possible solutions to prevent and minimize the risk of flooding.  

 1. The rapid response water-gate

7 Inventions and Ideas to Stop Flooding and Mitigate its Effects
A computer-generated mockup of the Water-gate system depicting how it 'inflates' to fill with water and create a dam. Source: Hydroresponse

When flooding is imminent, you often need a barrier to protect yourself. Sandbags serve this task in many scenarios, but they may require a significant amount of preparation and set-up time, plus it's cumbersome to carry around. A device known as the water-gate can be a useful alternative. This is a rapidly deployable device made of a PVC material. It utilizes the pressure of oncoming water to stabilize itself. This essentially means that the floodwaters are used to build their own dam. 


Because the device leverages lightweight PVC and a design that leans on the water pressure to inflate it, the device itself is very compact and can be deployed by a single person in a matter of minutes to hours depending upon the size. 

By surrounding a structure with the water-gate, a makeshift dam is created around the building. It's also completely reusable, so it's a great option for those living in a region at risk of flooding.  

2. The Maeslant Storm Surge Barrier in the Netherlands

7 Inventions and Ideas to Stop Flooding and Mitigate its Effects
The large white structure rotates into place and fills with water to protect the region from flooding. Source: Mark Voorendt/Wikimedia

Netherlands' Deltaworks system is one of the most comprehensive flood protection systems in the entire world. This complex network of flood barrier infrastructure comes as a result of the country sitting almost entirely below sea level. 

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One notable barrier that stands as part of the Deltaworks is the Maeslantkering, otherwise known as the Maeslant Storm Surge Barrier. This Barrier was finished in 1997 and today it is still one of the largest moving structures in the entire world.

As water rises in the surrounding area, sensors trigger the walls to close and water tanks to fill along the barrier. This water weight causes the walls to push firmly down on their foundation, keeping floodwaters from breaching the gates. 

3. Aquobex flood guard

7 Inventions and Ideas to Stop Flooding and Mitigate its Effects
A look at the Aquobex system installed on a double sliding door. Source: Aquobex

We've spent some time discussing larger-scale barriers. For a smaller-scale appliance, we have the Aquobex entry barrier system. It's a small-scale dam that is designed to seal off doorways and entrances to buildings. By creating a seal with the surrounding surfaces, the rising water is kept from coming into the structure when these barriers are applied to all of the building's entryways. 

The barrier is completely reusable and can be quickly deployed in times of emergency.

4. The Thames Barrier

7 Inventions and Ideas to Stop Flooding and Mitigate its Effects
A wide shot of the Thames Barrier, depicting the steel structures that rotate into place to prevent flooding. Source: Andrew Price/Flickr

Flooding along the Thames River in England has been a persistent problem throughout its history. To combat this, engineers have designed a movable barrier system that is made of hollow steel. These structures form water gates that in times of high flooding can be revolved shut to stop water from flowing through. This design allows ships and other water traffic to pass through with ease during normal times, but authorities can still form it into a barrier quickly when a flood is looming. 

These structures have been in place since construction was completed on them in 1984 and have since been used over 100 times to protect the surrounding area from destruction.

Opti is one of the most unique flood prevention systems that is on this list. Rather than a barrier system, Opti is a company that utilizes data management software to map and optimize city's stormwater drainage systems. 

Most cities around the world have some planned method of dealing with stormwater on the city streets. This can involve a series of stormwater drains and storage tanks, but these systems aren't always in the right place or functioning to 100 percent. 

This startup has raised over $11 million in an initial round of investing. It leverages mapping technology to predict where flooding will occur throughout a city, allowing city planners to know more precisely where to construct retention ponds and other flood management systems. 

Notably, in reference to retention ponds, these are one of the most useful prevention methods that can be used to protect cities from flooding. They're basically just large holes in the ground that fill up with excess water from the drainage system. After a storm is over, the water drains out of the pond. However, when overflow of these retention ponds occurs, it can be bad news. 

The software that Opti has developed keeps track of weather forcasts and predicts where in a city flooding is most likely to occur during a storm. In certain cities, engineers have control over how much water is being held in any given retention pond. With Opti, those engineers can leverage the software to know when to drain one and when to fill another, all with correlation back to the actual weather forecast in the area. 

The system has been installed in over 130 cities across the United States. While the company knows that it won't be able to prevent flooding, it hopes that its technology will minimize the damage from floods when they do come. 

6. LiDAR flood risk mapping

In Bangkok, Thailand, LiDAR mapping is being utilized to develop elevation plots and models to understand where resources need to be focused for flood prevention. LiDAR, or light-detection and ranging allows the creation of a 3D elevation map, allowing engineers to develop highly accurate elevation models for a given area of the city. 

The city is also using unmanned aerial vehicles to scan the city's drainage network for obstacles that could prevent water flow; say a tree stuck in a drain or trash buildup in a pipe outlet.

Thailand as a whole has been hard hit by flooding over the last decade, which is what has caused them to adopt such a slew of technology in the prevention and planning for flooding. 

7. WIPP: Water Inflated Property Protector

7 Inventions and Ideas to Stop Flooding and Mitigate its Effects
A look at how the WIPP protects the entry to a building. Source: Hydroresponse

The water inflated property protector is one of the most basic flood protection systems that we've discussed on this list, but simple doesn't necessarily mean it's worse. This system is made up of connectable vinyl-coated polyester bags that hold large amounts of water and serve as temporary dams. By fighting the floodwaters with more water, the heavy barrier system is a quick and effective way to stop floodwater ingress from a structure in much the same manner that sandbags work.


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