While the Daily Mail continues to blame the Environment Agency (EA) for the flooding on the Somerset Levels and in the Thames Valley, the deeply subversive Guardian has discovered not only that proposed flood defences for some of the affected areas have been the subject of spending cuts, but also that farming methods – approved by the Government – have made matters worse.
Flooding on the Somerset Levels
The Mail has continued to exploit the understandable upset of those affected by the floods, telling “The rivers were once managed by the National Rivers Authority who regularly cleared silt and debris from the waterways, until responsibility passed to the Environment Agency”, this being backed up by three photos of one location on the River Parrett at Burrowbridge.
This is then juxtaposed with a shot of widespread flooding on the Levels, the clear suggestion being that, if only the river banks at that location had been as they were many years ago, it would never have happened. But here a problem enters: the idea that all the floodwater could have been carried away under that bridge without the Parrett bursting its banks is ludicrous.
Moreover, the EA does clear blockages such as leaves and trees, shrubs, and other rubbish from rivers and drainage channels (see presentation HERE). And the agency is clearly prepared to talk about dredging, although, as it points out, siltation occurs in what it calls “slow flow areas”: in flood, the river’s mechanical action takes away silt and other debris. And then there are those cuts.
“A £2.2m scheme to improve flood management on the Parrett, the main river draining the Levels, and the nearby Sowy river, was postponed and currently has no prospect of funding before 2020 ... Another scheme for the Parrett, near the village of Burrowbridge, was in line for £300,000 of funding from 2011-13 but has received nothing”. Burrowbridge? See above. And there is another cancelled scheme.
“A third scheme for the river, called ‘Parrett Estuary – Cannington Bends’, worth £6.2m, covered an area near where it meets the sea [which] would have moved 536 homes out of ‘the very significant or significant flood probability category to the moderate or low category’”. Then there is the farming problem, revealed by the tireless George Monbiot today.
The previous Government made subsidies for maize production conditional: “Ground cover crops should be sown under the maize and the land should be ploughed, then resown with winter cover plants within 10 days of harvesting, to prevent water from sheeting off”. The Coalition removed the condition after lobbying by farmers. That’s just one way that those protesting loudest have contributed to their own mess.
It’s understandable that folks urge simple remedies. But the story isn’t so simple.