The Somerset Drainage Boards Consortium (IDB), which brings together a wealth of practical expertise and experience on every aspect of water management, has drawn up a 10-point plan to reduce the risk of prolonged and deep flooding on the Somerset Levels and Moors.
The plan was being prepared in any case, but its timing could hardly have been better, given David Cameron’s announcement during Prime Minister's Questions yesterday that rivers in Somerset are to be dredged as soon as the current high water levels drop.
The announcement follows Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson’s, challenge this week to organisations and interests in Somerset to come up with a long-term strategy for managing water and reducing flood risk, as the key to releasing funds for dredging.
The Consortium’s chairman, Peter Maltby, said that he hoped that the plan would form the basis of an approach around which communities, farmers, environmental groups and local authorities could all unite in finding a way forward.
“The Drainage Boards are made up of people who have a lifetime’s experience of water and drainage in Somerset, advised by engineers who know their subject inside out. The plan wouldn’t just see the rivers Parrett and Tone dredged, but would address the situation in the round, as the Secretary of State has requested. It sets out the common ground, on which we can all unite.”
Dredging the key stretches of the Parrett and Tone is inevitably at the top of the IDB’s list, but it also proposes measures for slowing and reducing the rate of run-off from the upper catchment, and reiterates the case for a tidal sluice in the Parrett downstream of Bridgwater to reduce the influence of the tide and slow the rate of re-siltation after dredging.
The plan recognises, however, that even with measures such as these in place, some homes, businesses and farms will remain vulnerable to the sort of rainfall experienced this winter, and recommends that advice and support be given to farmers to adapt their systems so as to become more flood-resilient, and the most vulnerable households to relocate.
“Our plan is intended to tackle the issues from every angle,” explained Mr Maltby. “Reducing the threat, increasing and maintaining the carrying capacity of the rivers and helping people and businesses to adapt and change if extreme rainfall events do indeed become more common.
“Dredging the rivers is at the heart of the plan but, as the environmental organisations have been saying, it is not the whole answer by any means. To beat the floods and give people, business, farming and wildlife on the Levels a sustainable future, we need to tackle every aspect of the problem, and that is precisely what our plan is intended to do.”
The IDB’s 10-point plan, which would be implemented collaboratively by a partnership involving all the key interests and organisations, is as follows:
- Maximise the conveyance of the lowland rivers in Somerset and maintain them.
- Construct a tidal exclusion sluice on the River Parrett as already exists on other rivers in Somerset.
- All land and property owners in Somerset to contribute to the funding of flood risk management work within their catchments.
- Increase soil infiltration and store more flood water in the upper catchments.
- Reduce urban run-off.
- Promote flood resilience and property level protection in the whole catchment.
- Promote and assist the relocation of very flood vulnerable households out of the floodplain.
- Acknowledge and provide assistance to land owners on moors identified as flood storage areas.
- Provide assistance to farmers and others to adapt their businesses in areas used for flood storage.
- Assist farms in flood storage moors to become resilient to flooding and provide assistance to relocate intensive farming activities out of the floodplain with assisted land swops.