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 44.

    The way I understand it is you shut the barriers in the sea wall when the tide's out to prevent it coming back in. This leaves you with a huge area for the water to drain into (which would normally be filled with sea). At the next low tide you can open the barriers again letting the water drain to the sea, back to normal when the flood risk has abated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    It would be nice if the BBC could learn to spell Bridgwater correctly. There is no 'e' after the 'g'...

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

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


    If it had been part of the Bristol Channel, as it should, very much so.

    Once, farmers maintained their own windmills on lowlands to keep the water table low. Then a wonderful public service provided nice electric pumps instead. Now, to save expenditure, they're switched off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Perhaps the government should consider scrapping HS2 (which no-one wants) and spending the money on flood defences instead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Can someone explain to me how a tidal barrage down-stream will protect the levels up-stream? I can see it could protect some coastal properties from tide surges but not anything past the tidal reach

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Matt, please check for the spelling of BRIDGWATER.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    We need food as much as homes. Stop building solar farms and plant crops - even grass for animals, as plants and animals use water. PV's don't.There should be PVs on the roofs of all newbuild.

    Reduce, reuse , recycle and SHOP LOCALLY to reduce CO2 emissions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Sounds like a very big investment to protect just a few homes - just let the place return to nature and move the residents out, or do a basic tidy-up job and let them take the risk as they have been doing anyway. Can we get them to move on and stop complaining.

    Tired of reading about 'southerners and their incessant moaning about once-in-3-Centuries bad weather stories' in the news.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    If such a lagoon were created, how long after it was finished would it be before some developer tries to buy it, drain it and build shoddy but expensive miniscule houses all over it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    It's interesting that Cameron only reacted to the floods, once properties in leafy Tory-voting Surrey were affected.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    We certainly need to do something, but allowing farmland to flood to protect cities is not one of them, except in very particular circumstances. We need to be able to produce food...surely people can understand this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    @32. Natalie Rowe

    "Cameron plans to cut jobs at the Environment Agency.
    Is the man insane ?"

    Given that they work on a basis of only spending a pound where it will save 8 then yes, obviously

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Cameron plans to cut jobs at the Environment Agency.

    Is the man insane ?

    He is very obsessed with cuts for the sake of cuts, even for government departments that are absolutely vital to the wellbeing of the UK. Which suggests to me that so-called "austerity" is an ideological project.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    As a start lets start spending UK taxpayers money in the UK rather than sending a fortune abroad in so called "aid"

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Chopping trees down to prevent flooding is only one of the most stupid ideas I have heard. We should be planting more, an average sized mature tree will absorb 1000 litres of water, only releasing it slowly as respiration. Tidal power, great, lets get on with it instead of talking about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Perhaps we should think the unthinkable : re-house all residents of the Somerset Levels elsewhere in the country, and let the Levels be returned to nature ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    11.Lord Elpus - "....We are only talking of the Somerset Levels, which like much of Holland, abuts the sea.
    There is no "down stream"........"

    Have you made even the most cursory attempt to CHECK YOUR FACTS...???!!!

    Look at where the pumped water goes when pumped out.... are making a fool of yourself for gobbing off without checking your FACTS....


  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Tidal power would need a massive (prohibitive?) investment in infrastructure, but at the least generating potential would be significant.

    The proposal in this article would not reduce floods unless the turbines were switched off. Not likely concidering the cost.

    I’m not overly worried about birds. They can fly apparently.

    What does Prof Falconer hope to gain? Always follow the money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    We are surrounded by Tidal power of course we should be harnessing this.

    "a stock rearing area" No Historically they were Willow covered floodplains??? returning Willow would help support the levels from future flooding and can be used in biomass

    And those worrying about the birds, unless we change how we produce energy, a few hectares of habitat being removed is the least of their problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    You seem to be proposing an artificial barrier to amoungst other things create farming land.
    A bit like the monks did on the Somerset Levels years ago?

    But what if it rains, and someone wants to put birds first?


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