Flooding : Emergency Lifted But Questions Remain

Pumping out at Bridgwater

The Environment Agency and the local authorities in Somerset have now removed the major incident status declared last week as they say flood risk in the county has reduced. The ‘major incident’ was declared on 17 January as a precautionary move to coordinate partners as the threat of flood increased. With enhanced pumping and recent dry weather, water levels have reduced on the Somerset Levels and Moors and it has been decided by Avon and Somerset Local Resilience Forum that the precaution is no longer needed. Labour members living in the affected areas are not, however, completely happy. North Petherton Councillor  Julian Taylor, whose home was flooded in 2014, says “I think that the major Incident should have continued. We are in a time when weather patterns can change very quickly. We are forecast fine weather until the week after next. Currymoor is 80% full, Northmoor is full. As was discussed at the Somerset Rivers Authority,  additional water storage capacity is need  now . None is available, the alternative is for homes in Moorland and Fordgate to Flood.”

£118m was spent by the EA plus large sums by all the local authorities, police, fire and rescue, health and many others, which does not include the monies paid out by the insurance companies. Julian Taylor continues “ There are long term impacts on peoples health.  There has been a refusal by the EA to look at long term solution to our flooding issues. It was recommended many years ago that more water should be directed from the upper Parrett down the Sowey and Kings Sedgemoor Drain out to the estuary at Dunball, with Permanent Pumps.  Currently there only temporary pumps which took too long to put in place.The major incident should continue so that additional  funding can be used to make sure that the levels are dry and that there is NO risk to communities. It would also be the opportunity to plan for the future protection of this part of Somerset when everybody, including government ministers in London , are full aware of the serious risks of doing nothing.  With global warning weather patterns can change very quickly.”

Currymoor Reservoir

Looks nice…but isn’t

Rhona Light, a flood warden who also lives in the affected area, says “The calling of the incident was so that other support agencies can get involved. Frankly locals need to make sure they are prepared BEFORE the major incident is called – it would have been a mad scramble if we had relied on the agencies.  As a Flood Warden I checked on people to see before who would need extra help with pet livestock, medical evacuation etc because nobody had engaged with us. And most people were aware and ready in Fordgate. Kate (Moorland) received a call from Somerset Prepared telling us to be prepared! Sorting out the Triggers for Currymoor will be the key. Everyone agrees that it filled up way too quickly, but the solution to this could involve considerable political wrangling. The EA are wedded to the seeing Currymoor as a *reservoir* I have no objections to that but think they should start aggressive pumping at – probably- the half full point. “

Pumping Out at Bridgwater

The waters are receding

Labour Leader on Sedgemoor Cllr Brian Smedley says “The decision to end the major incident status seems to be treasury driven.  Declaration of a major incident allows additional money to be drawn in by the EA , local authorities, police and other agencies. Premature withdrawal puts greater costs onto already extended budgets. An EA circular said that these moors, including the homes there, was a reservoir, ie a water storage area.  If this is so then the EA and English Nature, part of Defra who often have a negative influence on land drainage, should say that they want Northmoor to be regularly flooded and buy up at market prices. The ‘Trigger points’ might have been set too high at Currymoor. At the Somerset Rivers Authority last Friday it was said that our part of Somerset needed greater storage space for water, Currymoor was at capacity, Nothmoor was full. It was suggested that more water could be put on Northmoor; but that would have meant that homes would be flooded in Moorland and Fordgate. Water was literally lapping at people’s doors. Local people are absolutely correct that pumping needs to start sooner at Currymoor. But they cant pump into the Tone if it and the Parrett are already at capacity.  The long term solution as suggested by the Parrett Drainage Board well prior to the 2014 events even, would be to open the sluice gates at Oathe/Staithe earlier and divert water along the Sowey and Kings Sedgemoor Drain and out into the estuary at Dunball . You cannot do this at High Tide. You need permanent Pumps at Dunball so that water can go out at any state of the tide. Altering the King Sedgemoor Drain and Sowey River and installing Pumps  requires investment. The EA have consistently refused to do this.”

Programme management in Question

Mick and Mili
Ed Miliband in Bridgwater during the 2014 floods meeting with  Julian Taylor (right)

The Major Incident was triggered on the Monday and pumps were due at Northmoor and Dunball by the Friday. In fact the pumps were 5 days late at Northmoor and 8 days late at Dunball.

Julian Taylor adds “The guys on the ground were excellent, but very poor programme management by the executive. What we have not talked about is the impact or personal and emotional health in communities having to face these issues have been told that all was well and that we wouldn’t have surface flooding again. In a  recent planning application in Fordgate, the applicants agents flooding experts said that there was no possibility of surface water flooding.  EA did not object to the application in spite of this being on land that is high risk zone 3.”

The official responses..

Jim Flory of the Environment Agency said: “We have been seeing an improving picture in Somerset over the last few days, with enough water to fill more than 23 million bathtubs a day being pumped back into rivers.Staff continue to work day and night to monitor and stage this major pumping operation as there is still lots of work to do and water to remove. We are grateful to all involved, including our partners, for their help and support.”

The fields are filling up again

Cllr Bill Revans, Leader of Somerset County Council, said: “The decision to stand up a major incident was not taken lightly, but it was the right move at that time to ensure everyone was ready to take further actions to support our communities if needed.  Thankfully, conditions have improved, and I am grateful to colleagues in the Environment Agency for their efforts to bring in additional pumps. We will continue to work closely with both partners and local people to monitor the situation and are well placed to react swiftly should the need arise.” 

The A361 between East Lyng and Burrowbridge is now mostly clear of flooding but remains closed this morning while sweeping and additional salting takes place

The Environment Agency operations will continue in Somerset with Currymoor approximately 80% full. Pumping activity is underway at Currymoor, Saltmoor, Northmoor, West Sedgemoor, Long Load, Westover, Huish Episcopi, and Midelney. In addition there are temporary pumps running at Elson’s Clyce, Haymoor, Fordgate, Kitch Drove and Bridgwater docks. At Dunball, the pumps are operational and running on high tides.

The A361 across the Somerset Levels has now reopened after a successful clear-up operation following recent flooding.

Flooding in Somerset 2014

A significant stretch of the road had been flooded since last week with emergency road closure gates at Burrowbridge and East Lyng locked shut to keep people safe. The gates have been reopened and traffic allowed through following safety inspections and work to remove debris and ice from the road surface. Temporary lights remain in place around a layby close to East Lyng where there is frozen mud.

Somerset County Council’s Lead Member for Transport and Digital, Cllr Mike Rigby said: “We’re pleased and relieved to be able to reopen this key route. I’d like to thank the travelling public and affected communities for their patience and cooperation in very challenging circumstances, as well as our Highways team for all their hard work in the last few weeks at all hours of the day and night, monitoring and clearing up the road, it has been a fantastic effort. Whilst we recognise there is still a lot of work ahead through the recovery phase, reopening the A361 is important milestone to restoring access for affected communities.Frustratingly some of the flood gates, including the ones at Burrowbridge and East Lyng have been targeted by vandals in the midst of what was a major incident due to flooding. This is downright dangerous.The gates are there to protect the public and we would urge motorists once again not to try to attempt to drive through flood waters – you’re putting yourself and others in danger.”

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