The winter floods of early 2014 battered the Somerset Levels. A 65 square kilometre area between Quantock and the Mendip Hills was devastated by an estimated 65 million cubic metres of floodwater. The result was that this environmental event has now been recorded as the worst flood occurrence ever known in the UK.
Many communities were cut off by the floodwaters and residents of three villages had to be evacuated. After homeowners could return to their properties, it was a case of counting the cost of the loss of possessions for those affected and the need for vast amounts of waterway and flood prevention repair programmes to be initiated.
With coastal defences, sluices, pumping stations and embankments all in urgent need of attention, a 20-year flood action plan was created. This cohesive strategy looked to shore up damage from 2014, to have plans in place for any flood warnings which may arise in the immediate future and to look at and carry out the work needed in various locations to try to stop such an event of this magnitude ever happening again.
Work already achieved
The most urgent work required was to repair over 50 defences and assets which were damaged during the flooding in time for the winter of early 2015. A number of new pumps were installed at the sites deemed to be key in keeping the whole area safe and some replacement permanent defences were also put in place. In addition, a number of temporary flood defences were also implemented with a view to them being replaced as part of the overall plan. The majority of affected locations saw protection restored to at least the previous standard but the Environment Agency worked in the initial months to make flood defences more resilient in as many places as possible.
The next stages of planned works
Work will move next to increasing the River Sowy capacity. Initial assessments here and also at King’s Sedgmoor Drain will see the achievement of a scheme which will reduce the risk and depth of flooding in the future.
One important aspect of the work of the plan sees dredging being placed towards the top of flood risk management options. This will see river beds cleared of sediment build up caused by the natural movement of sand and silt over the years.
Other flood risk management options
Whilst dredging will be a mainstay of the plan over the next two decades, there are a number of other options available which will be investigated. Dredging isn’t always the solution as it’s dependent on the site so other effective techniques will include the setting back of existing river banks, building of new banks, installing extra pumping machinery or capacity or maintenance projects such as weed removal and control.
A total of 10 locations across the Somerset Levels have been incorporated into the 20 year timeline. It’s a huge project being undertaken by a number of authorities but all have the same goal in common; to stop the damage and misery caused during the flooding of 2014 and to put protection in place to give residents of this beautiful part of the year peace of mind.