Government's £4m fund to dredge rivers in Somerset could only have 'marginal' effects on future flooding, experts warn

 

Science Editor

A government plan to begin the dredging of two rivers in the flooded Somerset Levels was taken without seeking the advice of senior engineers in charge of flood defences who happen to believe that the £4 million project will bring only “marginal benefits”, it has emerged.

David Rooke, executive director of flood and coastal risk management at the Environment Agency, said that he has not been asked by ministers whether the dredging of 8km of the rivers Tone and Parrett is worth the money or whether the £4 million could be better spent on other anti-flood measures for the embattled region.

Dr Rooke is the most senior flood expert within the Environment Agency yet he admitted that ministers have not asked him whether dredging could have prevented the recent catastrophic flooding which began in December after the heaviest period of rain on record and the highest river levels, tides and groundwater levels for a generation.

“We’ve not had direct discussions over dredging. It’s been advice in terms of the overall risk the country is facing and our response to the risk,” Dr Rooke said at a press briefing yesterday before a lecture he is due to deliver today on the lessons of the recent floods at the Royal Academy of Engineering.

“We’ve had conversations in terms of our plans for implementing government policy and we’ve had detailed discussions in terms of what we are going to do and when we are going to do it, and that’s why we made the announcement last week [on dredging],” he said.

 

“Our job is to implement government policy and clearly the government has decided that dredging needs to be done and it’s providing the extra funding that’s needed,” he added.

Local MPs and residents have criticised the Environment Agency for cutting back on river dredging in the Somerset Levels over recent years, which some critics have claimed has exacerbated the recent flooding.

Dan Rogerson, the floods minister, said that river dredging is a crucial step towards providing extra protection to local communities in the Somerset Levels, which is why the government is providing extra funding for the Environment Agency to begin dredging next month.

However, water engineers and hydrologists have pointed out that the flatness of the landscape in the Somerset Levels means that dredging will only have limited benefits at best, and might actually make matters worse in low-lying areas affected by high tides.

“Work we did following the 2012 flood showed there is some benefit on a 2012-type event for doing some selective dredging, which is what we plan to do now that the Government has given us some money to do it - and that will bring some marginal benefit,” Dr Rooke said.

“It would probably mean that the moors would not flood as early as they would have done, and that we would be able to pump water off quicker than we are able to do.

“In terms of whether the same number of properties would be flooded, we don’t yet know. A group of experts have said it probably wouldn’t have made much difference on this event we have experienced. On smaller events, it’s probably going to make some difference,” he said.

Asked directly whether dredging is a good use of public funds, Dr Rooke replied: “That’s for others to decide. Our job is to implement policy with the funding that’s made available to us… We haven’t had that conversation because those conversations with Government were before the floods that we’ve experienced.”

Professor Roger Falconer, a hydrologist at Cardiff University, said that the extremely flat landscape of the Somerset Levels means that dredging will not have the impact that many people expect because of the slow river flow.

“All and sundry seem to think this is going to solve the problems but… any first year university student will question the enthusiasm for dredging in the Somerset Levels,” Professor Falconer said.

“I think it would be a better investment to raise the roads so at least people can communicate with the outside world. I personally think that would be a better investment of the money,” he said.

Professor Jim Hall of Oxford University said: “Dredging can and does increase the cross-sectional area of a channel which means that under certain conditions the channel will drain faster but in places like the Somerset levels it also allows the tide to come in faster and in other conditions it can propagate water downstream to other locations faster.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003