THE more I hear about the proposed £72 million Kendal flood defence scheme, the more convinced I am that there is a far simpler, cheaper and less environmentally damaging - yet quick to implement - solution to this problem.

If you find your bath overflowing with the taps on full and a slow-running drain, then most of us would look first at turning the taps off rather than trying to make the bath sides taller, and yet this is exactly what phase one of the current flood scheme proposes.

First, let's look at the "bath taps". The Kent is a short river system of about 20 miles' total length from source to sea; its primary source of water comes from the Kentmere hills.

By good fortune the source is also where the now-redundant Kentmere reservoir is sited, taking water from the Kentmere Hills. The reservoir was originally built in 1848 on the site of an existing tarn as a water power source for the mills which have long since gone.

It has a capacity of 44 million cubic feet of water. This capacity could be increased vastly (if needed) by increasing the dam wall height, and the additional capacity gained would have very little environmental impact on the valley in which it sits.

This reservoir could then be used as the primary water catchment management system, allowing it to fill with the fell run-off during storms, and drain out at low water levels, thus smoothing the river water levels.

This measure would significantly lower the flood risk in both Staveley and Burneside and greatly reduce the flood risk in Kendal and further downstream. Long term, further additional measures to slow down run-off from the fells needs to involve reducing grazing by sheep by creating areas of protected forestation. This is controversial: the Lake District looks the way it does because of extensive hill sheep grazing. I appreciate the current beauty of the landscape but I do believe we need to address this balance, ie a healthy mix of sheep and protected areas of forest.

Now let's look at the "slow bath drain". The River Kent has a unique topography as it exits Kendal at the water treatment works; hereafter flowing along a reasonably straight line through the town, it immediately enters a series of tight 90-degree bends around the flood plain of the old Roman fort. It is in effect in the process of forming what geologists call an "oxbow lake".

These turns rapidly slow the river flow and, in doing so, back up the water in the town, raising its level. When the water level is high enough (as it was in Storm Desmond and other more recent storms) the river floods naturally straight across this site, and in a few more thousand years the river will naturally change its own course here by adopting a straight route (unless we prevent it from doing so).

If we now took the initiative nature is showing us and built a dry spillway across this plain at a level which would only fill once the river reached flood level, we would lower the river level in the town centre during flood events. The river flow would as a consequence speed up, draining water from the town centre and entering the naturally deep limestone gorge which leads onwards towards Levens. Again this is relatively cheap to construct, with a relatively low environmental impact.

Only after addressing these two fundamental yet simple measures should you look at "raising the sides of the bath", ie building four kilometres of glass/concrete walls along the town centre river banks. You might actually discover that you either don’t need to build that element after all or it would only be needed on smaller scale, and in turn be less destructive to the town.

Dr Chris Cottam