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Date: 07 February 2014

Today's Topic: Flooding on the Somerset Levels. Evacuation in progress

Triggers: BBC News Report

My Grump: We don't plan for these known disasters, we only react to them

I wasn't going to write this article because I absolutely hate 'I told you so's'. But today they are evacuating Moorland, on the Somerset Levels, as the local water levels have risen a metre overnight, following a breach of temporary flood defences in the early hours. So far around 80 homes in the village have been evacuated.

This is a tragedy for the people that live on the levels, and I feel sad and angry that their situation has been like this for 8 weeks, since the middle of December, and NOTHING seems to be done. Quite likely this is not true, but one thing is clear, what has been done so far is too little, too late; weeks too late in fact.

Pumping Water on the Somerset Levels The news reporters are beside themselves when reporting disasters like these, it seems they're as happy as the proverbial oinker in do-do. So they gaily talk about pumps now pumping water into the Parrett at a rate of 10 tons per second.

Well Mr Newsman, here's some news; when the rain is coming down hard, it's falling out of the sky, over an area the size of the levels, at around 100,000 tons per second. Just because you only see a drop at a time when it's raining, doesn't mean 10 tons a second is going to do any more than diddly squat.

This whole catastrophe is the product of years of indecision, ineptitude, and an inability to spend money in the right places, or have a plan that extends beyond one term in parliament. You know, when water washes off the land, it's not just water that enters the ditches and rivers, it's water laden with silt. As fast moving, dirty water, enters a river and slows down, it drops what it's carrying, which ends up on the river floor, or along the banks. The central part of a river is usually the fastest flowing and can often remain reasonably clear. But the banks are an area of friction for the water, which slows down and drops its cargo, providing fertile soil and silt for weed, reeds and rushes. This slows down the water even more. Eventually there's not enough flow to keep up with the series of rainstorms that usually precede a flood.

Here's what I think.

The reason I'm writing this article today is because as the news was on and Moorland was being evacuated, my wife said, 'If you had a pound for everytime you said these rivers ought to be dredged, we'd be rich today and could afford to do it for 'em'. And she's right! I've lived in Somerset my whole life. When I had just learned to drive in the 70's, my mates and I used to go and play on the Somerset levels, driving our cars through the flooded roads, spraying water all over the place, making huge side sprays that jetted out from the wheel arches, and generally having a silly old time of it.
Water on the Somerset Levels
When one of the cars packed up because the electrics got soaked, another car pulled alongside, we'd crawl out of the open window of the dead car, in through the open window of the second car, and leave the broken down car until the water went, and we could go back and tow it home. Thing is, the water only used to come up to the wheel hubs back then and that was as deep as it got. I don't think it was ever as severe as it is now, except perhaps in small little pockets of the levels. In fact, I've still got some beautiful photographs of the levels underwater. Now, you see cars caught in the flood completely submerged.

I'm sure, it is the indecision of the decision makers that has caused this year on year to get worse and worse. Just maybe there IS more rain now, maybe the volume of water is just too great now. But even back then, when I was a teenager, we used to talk about dredging to stop this happening, and people would laugh at us.

The other thing we used to talk about was to find the lowest spot on the Somerset levels and create a permanent pumping station. So that the minute the pumping station got hit, the pumps could be started and keep up with the water that was heading towards it. The water's heading that way anyway, because it's the lowest point, get rid of it as it's happening, not wait until it's actually flooded before you start doing anything.
Water on the Somerset Levels
It's not too late to build a pumping station now, or even a series of stations across the whole of the worst hit landscape, and clear the ditches to drive the water toward them. You can pump the bloody stuff all the way to Burnham sea front or anywhere else along the Severn, if necessary. Nobody thinks twice about pumping oil or gas across whole continents. Back in the 70's when I was suggesting this as a possible solution, the country was swimming in money. Now we're in the middle of a recession, finding the money is a lot more difficult, but it still needs to be done.

People are really fed up about this because something could have been done about it years ago, and wasn't. The secret about effective water management is having somewhere for it to go. One of the things I learned in school, which has stuck with me all this time, is that water flows DOWNHILL. So why is it, when you look at aerial views of the rivers through the levels, the rivers are HIGHER than the surrounding landscape?

The only way to stop areas flooding is to keep water moving, simple as that. The minute it stops moving and piling up you have a flood. The cost of effective pumping stations would be fairly high, I agree. But even if you only go back as far as the 70's, the cost of miles and miles of sandbags, flood defences, the fire brigade, police and army rescue, helicopters, boats, rafts, dinghys, deep water vehicles and everything else, the cost of that over all that time, makes 5 properly sited pumping stations a cheap option.

What are the Somerset Levels? The Somerset Levels are an area of flat land that extends for about 170,000 acres (70,000 ha) across parts of north and central Somerset in the West of England. Map of the Somerset Levels Thousands of years ago the area was underwater and covered by the sea, and the ancient town of Glastonbury was once an island. But today, after the building of artificial flood defences to keep out the tides from the nearby Severn Estuary, it's a landscape of rivers, ditches and wetlands - artificially drained, irrigated and modified to allow productive farming.

It's one of lowest and flattest areas in the country with much of it still below sea level, and a maximum altitude of only 25ft (8m) above sea level.

The wetland is supplied by the rivers Axe, Sheppey and Brue in the north, while the rivers Cary, Yeo, Tone and Parrett serve the south. It is these rivers which are at the centre of claims by farmers who say a lack of dredging has caused flooding. And whilst this may be true, the records show that shortly after the Great War, a third of the flood plain was under water, some 70,000 acres (28,000 ha) was submerged in 1919. During the 2014 flooding it is estimated about 16,000 acres (6,500 ha), or about 10% of the Levels, are under water.

So yes, we may blame Global Warming, we may be able to point the finger at world pollution, or melting icecaps, but we definitely have to dredge the rivers, and we need pumping stations to keep the water down in years to come. Just remember, 100 years ago the flooding was even worse than now, which suggests a long term weather cycle may be responsible, rather than what comes out of the average family saloon. Sorry all you doomsday folk, but an acre back then, and a depth gauge back then, were the same measurements we use now.

Please share your thoughts below, thank you.

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