A dredging scheme that could prevent a repeat of serious flooding in the Langport area has scored a £300,000 breakthrough.
An influential committee made up of local authority and Environment Agency representatives backed a £3.5million project for the Somerset Levels on Monday.
The Wessex Regional Flood and Coastal Committee has allocated £300,000 from local councils towards the project.
Nick Stevens, of the Somerset Consortium of Drainage Boards, welcomed the move but said the onus was now on the Government to provide funding through the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
He said the £3.5 million project aims to clear a 8km stretch of the rivers Parrett and Tone around Burrowbridge – five miles from Langport. Dredging there would reduce water levels around Langport and nearby Muchelney, which was completely cut off for several days during floods last November.
He said the Environment Agency agreed that the flooding would have been less serious if dredging had been carried out where the Rivers Parrett and Tone meet.
Currently the watercourse there is operating at 60 per cent capacity because of silt levels, Mr Stevens said, and the cost of flood damage on the Somerset Levels had reached around £10 million.
Farmer Barrie Bryer, of Charity Farm in Aller, said half of his land was under water for several months at the end of last year and it will take at least a year for some of it to recover.
He said: “The simple fact is the rivers need dredging – if you have a blocked artery in your body you struggle, and we’ve got a blocked artery in the river so it’s struggling.
“Farmers have been saying this needs to be done for years, there has been serious neglect and any money that is available should be spent on dredging.
Mr Stevens said he now hopes the Government will contribute money to the project.
On Friday, Mr Stevens and drainage board chairman Peter Maltby met Farming Minster David Heath and Environment Minister Richard Benyon to press the case for dredging.
Mr Stevens said: “We’re charging farmers for drainage and their land is covered in water. We have seen first hand the conditions they are dealing with. We are taking forward the concerns of the farmers.
“Ministers recognised that starting a dredging programme is key to making progress on a whole range of issues. They did not reject the idea that the Government would make a contribution to the dredging programme.”
Any announcement on Defra funding is not expected until an embargo on ministerial announcements is lifted following next month’s local council elections.