Costly plan to reduce Somerset floods

Car cut off by flood waters Local people have argued that floods are exacerbated by silt clogging up rivers

Efforts to help one of Britain's most flood-prone regions will cost "tens of millions of pounds", according to the Environment Agency.

A plan to safeguard the Somerset Levels is due to be unveiled tomorrow amid concerns about the funding needed to implement it.

Parts of the area have been underwater for more than two months with many homes, roads and farms still affected.

The flooding led to intense criticism of the Environment Agency last month which in turn triggered an open dispute at senior levels of government.

One immediate measure, already announced, is a scheme to clear a five-mile stretch of waterway where two key rivers meet.

Computer modelling of that proposal shows that dredging could reduce the height of flooding and its duration.

Local people have long demanded dredging of this kind, arguing that the floods have been exacerbated by silt clogging the rivers.

Further steps are expected to include installing bigger pumps and providing better protection for villages.

A long-standing proposal to build a new barrier to hold back high tides may also be brought forward.

In a winter of extreme weather, the sheer duration of the floods in the Somerset Levels has made the plight of this area highly sensitive politically.

Agreed strategy

The plan comes after the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson visited Somerset and called on local organisations to pull together an agreed strategy within six weeks.

The government has already promised an extra £10m to assist the area but there are questions about how much extra cash will be available beyond that.

Black and Veatch modelling This graphic shows computer modelling of a 2012 flood in Somerset versus what might have happened with dredging

The plan is designed to offer a comprehensive solution for the area ranging from encouraging farmers to retain rainwater in the uplands to improving the flow of water through the Levels themselves to helping local people make their communities more resilient.

One major cost already accounted for is £4.1m for the dredging operation along the rivers Parrett and Tone.

But officials estimate that a proposal to upgrade an artificial river, the Sowy, could cost £4m-£8m and the plan for a tidal barrier at Bridgwater - to keep the highest tides out of the River Parrett - was priced at nearly £25m back in 2009 and is understood to be higher now.

David Rooke, head of flood risk management at the Environment Agency, refused to put a price tag on the overall cost of the proposals.

But, in a BBC interview, he said: "It would be tens of millions and it would need to be sustained for the next 10-20 years."

"You're certainly talking a lot of money both from central government and local government and keeping that funding in place for many years."

Estimating benefits

Mr Rooke also warned that if the Somerset Levels were protected to a far higher standard, other areas may demand the same level of defence too - and current funding will not cover that.

"To avoid the sort of extreme event that we've seen, if we replicated that standard right across the country you'd be talking many billions of investment to give people the same standard of protection and at the moment government policy is not to do that."

Another official, speaking privately, said the assumption was that any plans to spend more than the £10m already agreed in Somerset would have to be settled in the usual competitive way.

Pumps Pumps installed near Bridgwater spew out 16 tonnes of water each second

That involves officials estimating the benefits of any scheme in terms of economic gain or households protected - and until recently, the Somerset Levels have fared badly in that calculation.

The plan to start dredging has been assessed in detail by flood risk specialists from the consultancy Black & Veatch.

Principal engineer Andy Wallis, who has long experience of the Somerset Levels, said research into an earlier flood in the same area in the winter of 2012 showed that dredging could bring benefits.

"Flooding is all about risk and you can never eliminate risk but you can very much reduce the risk and what dredging does is reduce the volume of water ending up in these areas.

"We know the current event is more extreme than last year and we know that dredging in this area would have had a benefit - it certainly wouldn't have eliminated flooding but it would have affected the duration of the event."

Other measures beyond dredging will need to be studied in more detail before being approved.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    Mr Paterson came across very reasonable with great policies on R4 at 13:30

    Biased Broadcasting & Sheffield University Professor attempted to state their view was correct despite decades of successful waterways management in the levels prior to the EA and "Experts".

    Time those responsible were sued.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    I wonder how they coped in 1929/30 when rainfall was far higher, so not unprecedented as so often reported...

    Some interesting researched and well reported comparisons here...

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    Why does the BBC avoid reporting local Somerset news ?

    There was a complete contrast from this report to the statements made by Mr Paterson on Radio 4 at 13:30

    Why is the BBC so biased against farmers and continuously promoting propaganda which also appears on The Guardian ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    "Farmer; I will dredge my river free so I can feed my stock this year.. "
    This farmer has a spare £5M, the cost of the 8km dredge?

    Arguably society should compensate farmers for the greater public 'benefit' of their land flooding. Is there the political will to enable this, or does the NFU stance 'no farmland will be flooded' preclude this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Farmer; I will dredge my river free so I can feed my stock this year.. Environment; No, it is an important wetland area now for wildfowl. Farmer; Will you compensate me for the loss of income & stock?... SILENCE. (Hypothetical with no names to protect some farmers)

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    My house is on a hill, miles from the sea. My house has no flood protection. The houses I saw flooded on the levels look no different to mine. If you build a house within feet of high tide level, I can't understand why you wouldn't build with some measure of flood protection, raised up above ground level, flood barriers to all doors, etc. I saw none of that. Maybe I missed it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.


    "Twelve thousand homes in Hull have been damaged by the floods" ...not to mention homes & businesses upstream as far as Sheffield (Humber > Trent > Don).
    There is a bit of action. Cost almost certainly running into many thousands.
    (How many homes damaged in Somerset?) - Tho' I do have sympathy

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    I wonder if the money would be spent if it were in the North of England?

    It would be money no object in the SE, in the same way that money per capita in SE infrastructure / transport / arts vastly outweighs that spent in the North, but will wait and see how much is actually spent in the SW.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    Rivers need space to flood, we should let them.

    Its not just about ensuring new developments have good flood defences, any flood plain / land that holds water that is taken out of use for that purpose will just reduce the space for water to spread - resulting in higher flood levels in other areas.

    We need to look at whole catchment plans.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Japan-2 new islands
    India-1 new island
    And you people think global warming
    Strange noises in the ground-air
    And you people think global warming
    The most meteors we have seen in our skies
    And you people think global warming
    You believe in bugs bunny also? so why believe people who are paid to lie to you? Look around the world and think hairspray did it, or anything else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Try watching "the year the earth went wild". Or check out Hawkkeye davis channel on youtube. In fact, try doing some research other than believing we are the ones responsible. You love Science so much, yet you do little to understand anything but take every word from those who are paid to veil your eyes. Landslides, Sinkholes, Earthquakes, Volcanoes-all the good stuff. Weird noises? Lol, soon ppl

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    I hope all these people mocking the flooded victims and the areas they live in will continue to sound the same when it affects them. Try looking up the word "unprecedented", and try to understand this was no ordinary rain shower. Global warming sheep calm down, this has more to do with our Star the Sun than people burning fossil fuels. Pole change, like it or lump it, it's coming. Stock up

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    #118 - a bund around each village would prevent water getting in - it would also prevent it getting out, unless catchment ponds and pumps were installed... You could end up with villages beinbg flooded beacuse the water cannot escape onto the levels.. and I do not call 1m quite shallow - especially as back flow from the drains and septic tanks means heavy contamination of the water with effuent..

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    #73 &74 - Yes London may have been a marshland, but now it is the most densely poulated part of the UK. Somerset, in particularly the Levels and Moors is relatively sparsely populated, and is mainly farmland. Much lies at such a low level that water has to be pumped up 2 to 3 metres into the rivers. Increasing the flow in these (by dredging) will reduce recovery time, but not prevent flooding...

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    A nonsense knee jerk reaction. Political cowardice sucking up to the self interested mob. Yes some got flooded, more than usual by a very rare, wettest on record winter. Should public protection be perfect for any rare occasion. No.

    Farmers getting free fertilising, like they rely on from the Nile, old as the pyramids,stop complaining. Most householders will be exploiting insurance new for old.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    I wonder how much it would cost an efficient organisation to fix the problem.

    Less than half the cost of having civil servants do it no doubt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    Where have all the taxes gone raised to prevent GW now called climate change ?
    £34 billion yr in UK alone
    There should be plenty of cash available to help prevent the effects of human induced climate change on the levels (sarc) so where it gone ?
    Subsidies to rich land owners cant account for it all surely
    We've been mugged & played via the use of deluded green crusaders & lobbyists all along

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    At most the flooding on the levels was quite shallow,( I saw one house with tide marks a metre up the wall) for those few villages affected, why not build a dike around each village? the access road could go over the dike and all pipes and streams can be routed through pipes with gates/valves that can be closed in emergencies to prevent water ingress This would be very cheap not millions

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Sorry: as people rightly seemed to understand, I intended "wouldn't" rather than "would" in my last post.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Hello Col @115. You presume that food production should be our driver for protecting agricultural land without questioning whether production is actually the issue. In fact, it isn't. The UN estimate we waste one third of food globally and in the UK it is thought to be about one fifth. If we did not demand choice all the time, we might not put so much pressure on our agricultural land.


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