Environment Agency warns over river flood risk


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The Independent Online

People were cautioned to keep away from swollen rivers today as dozens of flood warnings remained in place after heavy rain across parts of England.

The Environment Agency (EA) said that downpours forecast today could lead to localised flooding, but there were "no significant concerns" as the threat of floods began to recede.

The agency said that after a weekend of storms, more downpours of up to 30mm (1.2in) last night and this morning had increased river flows, but not led to any significant flooding of properties.

But after a man died when the car he was travelling in became submerged at a flooded road ford, the EA urged people to keep away from swollen rivers, and not attempt to walk or drive through flood waters.

In the latest update on the situation, a spokesman said: "The Environment Agency is continuing to keep a close watch on river levels as well as checking defences and clearing any potential blockages to reduce the risk of flooding.

"Whilst the Met Office has been forecasting some heavy rain throughout the morning - which could lead to localised flooding - there are no significant concerns.

"Across Devon and Somerset there has been further heavy rain during Monday night into Tuesday morning which has had an impact on river flows but has not led to any significant property flooding."

Today there were 32 flood warnings in place, half of which were in the South West, and more than 120 less serious flood alerts.

The Environment Agency said there could be additional flood warnings as water moved down through river catchments. The River Severn looked set to peak in Gloucestershire tomorrow but "no major problems" were expected.

Gloucestershire County Council said some roads were closed, including one lane of Flaxley Road in Cinderford which was shut after the road collapsed, and a number of minor routes in Tewkesbury which were under water.

Other roads around the county were "passable with care" and there were no significant closures. Many roads had tree debris and standing water, but the council said Gloucestershire Highways staff were working hard to keep roads open.

Although the wettest April on record has started to restore water levels below ground, the Environment Agency said it would take much more time and rain to undo the effects of two dry winters and bring swathes of England out of drought.

Thames Water warned its 8.8 million customers that a hosepipe ban will remain in place despite heavy downpours bringing more than double the long-term average rain for the month.

The UK's biggest water company said the rain had not made up for a shortfall caused by below-average rainfall in 20 of the previous 25 months.

Richard Aylard, director of sustainability and external affairs for Thames Water, said the firm was aware of the "irony" that heavy rain had set in after the hosepipe ban was announced.

"But it took the two driest years since records began for us to get into this drought, and one wet month, even one as wet as April, will not be enough to get us out of it."

The company said river flows in the Thames region have been boosted by the recent rainfall, with the Pang in Berkshire, which had dried up completely, flowing again due to run-off from nearby fields.

But it said it expected water levels on the Pang, like other rivers in the region, to drop rapidly again because of exceptionally low groundwater levels.