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Question over dredging cost of flooded farmland on Somerset Levels

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: February 05, 2013

  • Environment Agency teams are working ‘flat-out’ pumping up to five million cubic litres of flood water a day away from the Somerset Levels. But can they continue to do so in the future

  • Fed up farmers on the Somerset Levels haven't seen their fields for months – these withey sticks used for basket-making float on the flooded shoreline, and have not been harvested for months in some places

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Parts of the Westcountry remain underwater more than a month after severe flooding brought areas of the region to a standstill.

Vast swathes of the Somerset Levels remain underwater, while roads are still impassable and landowners unable to farm their land.

One of the biggest pumping operations ever staged in Britain remains on-going, as up to five million cubic litres of water are transferred off the sodden land every day.

But as every additional spell of wet weather poses more problems, the Environment Agency (EA) is starting to question whether or not it can afford to clear the area if wet winters become the norm.

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Meanwhile, the Exeter-based Met Office has issued a severe weather warning for ice across most of the South West today.

Wintry showers and strong winds were expected to come in overnight and continue into the morning, allowing ice to form on untreated surfaces.

In November, the EA brought in huge mobile pumps and teams of workers from all over the country to add a further 50% capacity to the badly flooded area’s existing pumping stations.

Six powerful pumps are now being used by the agency to take water off the flooded levels, but farmers who haven’t seen their fields for three months are starting to get fed up.

Anthony Gibson, former regional director of the National Farmers’ Union, said: “Normally flooding doesn’t normally cause too much damage. But much of the land has been underwater since November. Patches of land that have been cleared are an absolute stinking mess. It will take weeks, if not months, for the land to recover on top of the last summer’s damage.

“The Environment Agency needs to do something about the state of the rivers before history repeats itself again.”

Agency spokesman Paul Gainey said: “We’ve made a big commitment to the Somerset Levels. Our teams are always working flat out, pumping up to 5 million cubic litres a day. The challenge is whether we can continue to do so in the future.

“And unfortunately we are unable to provide the money needed to carry out the dredging on the rivers.”

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