Blue lagoons and higher roads to curb flood threat?

Floods The floods have spread across thousands of acres of Somerset

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Would a large lagoon the size of 12,000 football fields have prevented the flooding of the Somerset Levels?

According to Roger Falconer, professor of water engineering at Cardiff University, the Bridgewater Bay Lagoon proposal would have helped the waters flow away from the flat lands of the county.

It was one of a number of ideas put forward for consideration in 2010 to harness the tidal power of the Severn Estuary.

The plan called for a 16km sea wall that would run in a semi-circle in the waters in front of Burnham-on-Sea, at the mouth of the River Parrett.

Power would be generated by the twice-daily tide turning turbines built into the structure.

Start Quote

I would personally prefer to see the money spent on raising the roads and the infrastructure so that people don't get cut off again, rather than on dredging”

End Quote Prof Roger Falconer University of Cardiff

However Prof Falconer believes it would have a significant side benefit as a flood prevention device.

He says the real problem for the Levels is that there is no significant slope to drain water away from the land. He believes that an artificial energy-generating lagoon would solve this problem.

By closing the turbines and preventing the tide coming through, the sea wall would create a massive storage site for water to drain from the Levels.

"We pretty well have a horizontal water surface slope in the Somerset Levels, and therefore I'm not convinced dredging will do very much," he told BBC News.

"If we can increase the water surface slope we increase the flow and that dramatically drains the land and significantly drops the groundwater level as well."

"I think it would have prevented the floods we have now."

Lagoon show

The plan though comes with a massive price tag. The Bridgewater Bay Lagoon idea would involve £12bn in capital costs.

"No-one is going to spend £12bn for a flood defence scheme," says Prof Falconer.

"But they will invest in green energy devices and if we can get flood control as a benefit it would be enormously beneficial."

map The proposal for the Bridgewater Bay Lagoon would provide electricity and flood protection, according to supporters

Lagoons are all the rage at the moment; plans have recently been submitted for a barrier in Swansea bay that could generate power for 120,000 homes for 120 years.

Prof Falconer says that another proposed barrier off the North Wales coast, the Clwyd Impoundment, could curb the sea's ability to destroy the coast in areas where people may not have the resources to protect themselves.

"If we were to build lagoons there, we can offer enormous flood defence protection against coastal erosion in some of the poorest parts of our country," says Prof Falconer.

While there has been huge focus on the pros and cons of dredging as a result of the flooding in Somerset, the most recent independent research suggested that it was no panacea.

Prof Falconer agrees that dredging in Somerset is not the answer. He feels that elevating vital infrastructure like roads would be a better use of resources.

"People cannot get to their houses - I would personally prefer to see the money spent on raising the roads and the infrastructure so that people don't get cut off again, rather than on dredging," he said.

"I'm not convinced dredging will solve the problem."

Rather than looking to the Netherlands for inspiration on flood proofing our houses, Prof Falconer believes the US is a better model.

Many homes there have a garage and a play room on the ground floor with the living room one floor up. This he says, might work better for the UK than houses on stilts.

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattmcgrathbbc.

Matt McGrath Article written by Matt McGrath Matt McGrath Environment correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    In the Somerset levels some of the rivers have a level flow plain, so why not let them flood? (yes I know people’s property is at risk but don’t build on a flood plain.)

    A onetime compensation to the people affected, a large wetland provided to keep Natural England happy and in the long term less of a drain (sorry about that) on our resources.

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    Is this story still up! Boooring! :( A handful of torys have their 'second' homes flooded. Big deal. Nothing to see here move along.

  • rate this

    Comment number 322.

    310# Beyondcorruption.

    Think you misunderstood my last sentence, which was in praise of water management in Holland.
    The Dutch drained Somerset Levels too, and I believe are assisting now with the pumping and future planning.
    This years flood has been caused by long term neglect of the rivers and rhymes and British beauracatic incompetence.

    HYS Please correct your spelling of Bridgwater

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.

    Very clear explanation on why the Somerset levels are in quite the state they are...should put some perspective on things...

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    One main problem is that we are all maxed out on our ability to reduce floods with natural remedy.

    Spending £1billion on planting trees in right places can have a more positive outcome than spending the same on a few local flood defences.

    Thing is, Natural England & National trust etc, preserve already vandalised/destroyed countryside instead of returning it to natural state - woodland

  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    If you check the map on the bottom of the Wikipedia page for 'Angles' you can see the coastline for 'terra firma' in 600AD. There is a similar map on the Wikipedia entry for 'Anglo-Saxon' for 650AD. This entire area is not naturally habitable. Why not capitalise on this and remake the whole area as a natural wetland, making tourism a financial recompense? A giant English water feature.

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    The primary reason that the Angles/Saxons etc. left 'the LOW COUNTRIES' north of Germany was because of poor weather and coastal flooding between the 3rd and 6th centuries. It would seem that the ancestors of the English knew or learned nothing from their own history. Don't live or build on a flood-plain, or expect flood insurance, unless you are prepared for the inevitable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    They should have a look at Sri Lanka where they have ancient large man made "tanks" which collect the rain water in the rainy season so the land does not flood.

  • rate this

    Comment number 316.

    The ancient Britons made wooden trackways on the levels, from 3800BC. Later, the Celts built 'crannogs' (wooden structures on stilts) in similar locations. 'Glastonbury Lake Village' - the best preserved prehistoric village in Britain - was built on artificially raised land. Other occupied areas were on hilltops: Brent Knoll, Polden Hills. Then the Saxons arrived & started draining the levels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    Continental countries with similar density to UK build spacious, well designed flats with playgrounds and patches of woodland nearby.
    Also affordable
    Then they don't need to use flood plains.
    UK tries to copy USA & build detatched houses - cramped- but wasting ground space.
    But USA has a fraction of Europe's population in twice the area.
    They have the space
    We don't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

  • rate this

    Comment number 313.

    247, a strange definition of "Tory heartland", given the county has 5 MPs, 4 of whom are Lib Dem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    "But it needs to be acted on NOW. If this government does not act, we will starve"

    I agree that the flooded farmland is the main problem, but no need to be so dramatic. We will not strave. In fact everyone who isn't a farmer relying on the land for their livelihood will be just fine. It's really only the farmers it will have a long term impact on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 311.

    Stop building houses on flood plains
    Stop building throw up houses
    Stop cutting down all the forests
    Stop mass immigration and have population control talks

    This very small island is suffering because of over population and profiteering - all problems link back to these two points.

  • rate this

    Comment number 310.


    Yes, this is our biggest threat. Most of us have a second floor to move to, animals and livestock/crops do not have the luxury. But it needs to be acted on NOW. If this government does not act, we will starve, animals/livestock and crops will die leaving bad health issues for all. Someone slap our MP's awake honestly. Their greed will be our sorrow. 3 years of bad karma.

  • rate this

    Comment number 309.

    The real problem isn't a few houses flooded, its the disruption to agriculture, on a flooded farm the animals are eating the winter silage, not fresh grass, that means come the winter there will be a food shortage - plus on arable land, the water table is so high that crops will rot in the field and never mature = farmers out of business

  • rate this

    Comment number 308.

    I live in the Fens which were drained by the Dutch. We have had nothing but rain, yet no flooding (touch wood). Most governments refuse to see anything unless it lands on their doorstep or constituency.
    And the jellybrains saying "should not have moved to flood plain area",you go where the work is, so please keep an open mind.
    More hands on deck, less fatcats gettin backanders

  • rate this

    Comment number 307.

    We need a party in that looks after the country and it's people. Selling out to property developers for a nice buck, just means there will be more people flooding when the rains come. This is a war, against the elements, so needs to be treated as such. Offer unemployed people the chance to work, those who want to work (i am one), let us clean ditches, plant tree's, fill sandbags ect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 306.

    This is what the Common Agricultural policy is for.

    Tie part of payments to the number of deciduous trees planted and maintained. That way, we hold water on higher ground, stop soil erosion, reduce silting, add co2-absorbing trees, replace elm and ash woodland, and create wildlife habitats.

    The farmers get paid, the areas of land used could be small - field margins few drawbacks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 305.

    He has obviously not been reading the news properly - it's not that people cannot get to their houses - their houses were flooded!

    Spending millions on raising roads does not solve the problem - people's houses are being innundated.

    When the Romans were in Britain Glastonbury was an island. The Somerset levels are below sea-level.

    Move, and don't build on flood-plains.


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