FLAG has to ensure that the terrible flooding of 2014 is never repeated. We know that flooding on the Somerset Levels can never be prevented entirely, it should never have continued for as long or at the levels that it did. The risk to dwellings and the damage that flood water caused to farmland and wildlife can be greatly reduced if the water is moved away quickly. We have identified the following areas that need to be addressed immediately to ensure we do not suffer like this again.
The Dredging of the River Parrett began on March 28th and has now been going for 50 days. However we are becoming increasingly concerned about the progress. So far it has been slow. We have received mixed messages from the Environment Agency and there have been other parties whose professional advice is that there are more efficient ways of completing this task. Public trust in the operation is low. The Dredge is scheduled to finish in October, which in our opinion is risky, as at the current rate of work there appears to be no contingency for inclement weather. So far the estimated total of silt to be dredged is 235,000 cubic metres. According to the EA briefing on May 16th, only 13,050 cubic metres have been dredged so far, so therefore only 5% of the silt has been dredged. This means 20% of the available time has been used to dredge only 5% of the silt that needs to be removed. This Dredge MUST be completed in full before the high tides and rain arrive in the autumn.
In the planning processes there has been NO mention of pumping stations. This is essential infrastructure that needs to be upgraded and fully maintained to ensure the survival of the Somerset Levels. The crucial pumping station is at North Moor and this needs to have the capacity to pump 9 cubic metres so that water can be removed quickly in reaction to changing weather patterns. Currently the pumps are NOT capable of this. The pumping stations are second only to the Dredge in water management strategy and they need to have considerable investment following 20 years of neglect.
3. Somerset Rivers Board
The establishment of the Somerset Rivers Board (SRB) is essential for the management of the waterways on the Levels. However it needs to be unencumbered by bureaucracy and focussed solely on waterway management. It needs to be proactive, rather than reactive which has previously hampered the EA. It needs to be lean and efficient with key decision makers who work along the same lines as the Internal Drainage Boards. The Dredge needs to be completed and the pumping stations MUST be up to a good working standard for the SRB to be able to achieve success.
Somerset is a poorly funded county and due to the neglect of the last 20 years of neglect capital investment is needed to bring the waterways system and infrastructure up to scratch. Once this has been achieved a small separate catchment charge should be placed on every property to share the cost of on going maintenance, which would be self-funded.
These key issues need to be addressed with much more urgency to ensure that the Somerset Levels are a safe place to live. Without these measures the towns of Bridgwater and Taunton are at real risk of flooding because the water has nowhere else to go. Winter will come very quickly and we MUST be prepared.