SRA Annual Report 2018-19: Progress on key elements of Somerset’s 20 Year Flood Action Plan
The Somerset Levels & Moors Flood Action Plan was published in March 2014, following that winter’s devastating floods. When Somerset Rivers Authority was launched on 31 January 2015 the Flood Action Plan was widened to include the whole of Somerset.
The SRA oversees the 20 Year Flood Action Plan. It has six key objectives:
- Reduce the frequency, depth and duration of flooding
- Maintain access for communities and business
- Increase resilience to flooding for families, agriculture, businesses, communities, and wildlife
- Make the most of the special characteristics of the Somerset Levels and Moors (with internationally important biodiversity, environment and cultural heritage)
- Ensure strategic road and rail connectivity, both within Somerset and through the county to the South West peninsula
- Promote business confidence and growth
All actions in the SRA’s annual Enhanced Programmes are scored and ranked against these objectives.
This section describes progress against key targets in the Flood Action Plan, as set out in the Plan’s Executive Summary.
We must: Dredge the first 8km of the Rivers Tone and Parrett.
What we have achieved: 4km of the River Tone upstream of Burrowbridge, and 4km of the River Parrett downstream of Burrowbridge, were dredged back to their 1960s’ river profiles in 2014 by the Environment Agency. The SRA has funded maintenance dredging every year since, and the pioneer dredging of a further 750m of the Parrett downstream of Northmoor Pumping Station in 2016. Plans have been made to dredge 2.2km of the Parrett between Stathe and Burrowbridge in autumn 2019. For more on this subject, including the SRA’s use of water injection dredging techniques in combination with silt monitoring, see the W1: Major Projects section of this report.
River Sowy/King’s Sedgemoor drain enhancements
We must: Increase the capacity of the Sowy/King’s Sedgemoor Drain (KSD) recognising that this solution will reduce the cost of pumping during future flooding events.
What we have achieved: In 2013-14 the A372 at Beer Wall near Othery was flooded for weeks and then closed for expensive emergency pumping. Subsequently, Somerset County Council raised and repaired the road, and installed four massive culverts to allow more water to go underneath it. The Environment Agency, acting for the SRA, then created two new offshoot channels for the Sowy and Langacre to flow through the new culverts. Two tilting weirs were also installed, to enable more flexible use of the Sowy, and allow pumping stations to be operated earlier.
Other works have included the removal of obstructive masonry from beneath Dunball Old Bridge as part of measures to improve the capacity and flow of water through the final stretch of the KSD, improvements to Chedzoy Flap (to better protect farmland around Chedzoy and Andersea), and de-silting to increase channel capacity at Parchey and Dunball. Further works are planned. For more Sowy/KSD details, see the W1: Major Projects section of this report.
Flood management and infrastructure solutions
We must: Invest in flood management and infrastructure solutions having developed a better understanding of their effectiveness.
What we have achieved: The SRA has so far approved 126 actions across Somerset, involving – in total – many hundreds more different elements countywide. In a summary such as this, one course of action may serve to indicate the SRA’s approach to this FAP target. The combined development of water injection dredging and sophisticated silt-monitoring as a means of maintaining the capacity of crucial sections of the Parrett and Tone stems from the work of an SRA Dredging Strategy Board. This was set up early in 2016 to investigate cost-effective dredging techniques and locations. Consultants from HR Wallingford collaborated with the Strategy Board on a long report called Opportunities for further dredging in Somerset. This report analysed a huge range of recent and historic materials and practices, and drew on local knowledge. It recommended trials of water injection dredging techniques and modern means of silt-monitoring, and these were duly carried out and then assessed. Experiments were done with agitation dredging, which involves a vessel using a front-mounted articulated arm with a rotating cutting device and suction hose, so that a boat becomes a sort of floating vacuum cleaner with teeth. It was found that this method could be precise, but it was also much slower than the other method of water injection dredging that is described in the W1: Major Projects section of this report. In combination with silt monitoring, it is this other method of water injection dredging that is now widely accepted as a good way of maintaining the Parrett and Tone. It is much cheaper, much quicker and much less disruptive. However, this success was not a foregone conclusion. It has been achieved only through the SRA and its partners, particularly the Parrett Internal Drainage Board, actively seeking out a better understanding of effective solutions.
Bridgwater Tidal Barrier
We must: Accelerate the construction of a Barrier or Sluice at Bridgwater, with the objective of achieving delivery by 2024.
What we have achieved: The SRA has used Growth Deal money from the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership to accelerate the initial stages of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier project, which is led by the Environment Agency and Sedgemoor District Council (DC).
A design and location have been chosen for the Barrier: two ‘vertical lift’ gates between Express Park and Chilton Trinity. Improvements are also being planned to existing downstream primary flood defences along the River Parrett, together with new secondary defences in the flood plain.
SRA funding has contributed to this project’s development and design. It is also enabling the Environment Agency and Sedgemoor DC to complete the detailed business case that is essential for securing future funding, and to prepare to submit the Transport Works Act Order that is essential for getting permission to construct the Barrier. The project team intend to apply in late 2019 for the consents needed to start building in 2022, so that a Barrier can be ready for use in 2024. It will protect 11,300 homes and 1,500 businesses.
Somerset Rivers Authority
We must: Establish a Somerset Rivers Board that has greater control and responsibility for work to maintain and improve water management on the Levels.
What we have achieved: Somerset Rivers Authority was launched on 31 January 2015 as a partnership of Somerset’s existing Flood Risk Management Authorities (FRMAs). The SRA covers the whole of Somerset, not just the Levels. Partners take on responsibilities for extra works, above and beyond their usual activities. Through the SRA, partners collaborate to maintain and improve water management across the county.
The Local Government Finance Settlement 2016-17 included the provision of alternative notional amounts for council tax levels so that pending the establishment through legislation of the SRA as a precepting body, Somerset County Council and all Somerset district councils could set a shadow precept of up to the equivalent of a 1.25% increase in council tax for the purpose of funding the SRA. While legislation is pending, the SRA is hosted by Somerset County Council, and has no independent legal status.
After a long series of exploratory discussions with the SRA, and other interventions such as the Future Flood Prevention Report by the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Committee, the Government drafted a Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill. This Bill was designed – subject to a secondary phase of consultation across Somerset – to establish the SRA as an independent legal entity that could raise funds for itself from council tax and make the longer-term plans for the delivery of extra flood risk management works that Somerset needs. With Government support, the Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill was taken forward in 2018 as a Private Member’s Bill by the Somerton and Frome MP David Warburton. The Bill passed through the House of Commons in early 2019 and moved on to the House of Lords, where it passed its 2nd Reading stage but was then withdrawn. See SRA Funding and Legislation on page 6 for more details.
Catchment-sensitive farming / Natural Flood Management
We must: Support farmers to maximise the benefits from catchment sensitive farming, especially regarding run-off in the upper catchment.
What we have achieved: The first line of the Land Management section of the complete Flood Action Plan states: “Every farm and every stream has a part to play in water and flood management in Somerset.” Accordingly, more than 500 farms have been visited as part of the Hills to Levels initiative, in which the SRA is a partner and major funder. Overall, more than 260 schemes have been delivered and more than 600 natural flood management structures created using funding from a range of sources. Somerset Rivers Authority itself has approved grants for 190 of those 260-plus natural flood management schemes. The SRA has also funded numerous investigations of flooding problems on roads and backed dozens of soil management initiatives. Benefits include reduced flood risks, reduced erosion, improved water quality, wider environmental enhancements and increased resilience on floodplains. For more details of this work, which has won two national awards, see the W2 section of this report.
Urban water management
We must: Manage urban run-off by ensuring best practice in planning and Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDs) implementation.
What we have achieved: A recent SRA achievement was the production of a major review of SuDS at 20 recently-developed sites across Somerset. This unique initiative looked in detail at planning and implementation issues. The SRA is now funding the production of a Somerset-specific planning guidance document to supplement the West of England Sustainable Drainage Developer Guide that was published in 2015, supported by Somerset County Council and the Environment Agency, both SRA partners. The Somerset-specific guidance will draw upon the wealth of evidence collected in the 747-page SuDS review and it will encourage best practice in planning and SuDS implementation.
Progress is also being made on a range of other initiatives: see the W3 section of this report.
Increasing business and community resilience
We must: Sustain and enhance business and community resilience capacity.
What we have achieved: Following the floods of 2013-14, an SRA-funded Community Resilience Officer worked with local communities, parish councils, the Environment Agency, district councils, emergency services and other interested parties. Detailed community flood resilience plans – to help people prepare for, or respond to, any future flooding – were distributed door-to-door in Burrowbridge, Moorland, Fordgate, West Yeo, Chadmead and Aller.
A Somerset community resilience website has been created to provide a comprehensive and easy- access information source for resilience, linked to flood risk information: www.somersetprepared. org.uk
Numerous SRA-funded grants have been given to communities by Somerset Prepared. In 2018-19, the SRA part-funded the first Somerset Resilience Day, a survey into affordable flood insurance, and a household resilience initiative in Misterton near Crewkerne. As part of Co-Adapt, the SRA has also begun match-funding a Moors Association Officer and a Farm Liaison Officer, to help make businesses and communities on the Somerset Levels more resilient to flooding. For more information, see the W5 section of this report.
Strong local leadership, engaging partners and communities
We must: Ensure strong local leadership with full engagement of local partners and communities.
What we have achieved: Until the end of March 2019, Somerset Rivers Authority was run by a Board of partners from West Somerset Council, Taunton Deane Borough Council, Sedgemoor District Council, South Somerset District Council, Mendip District Council, Somerset County Council, the Parrett and Axe Brue Internal Drainage Boards, the Environment Agency, Wessex Regional Flood & Coastal Committee and Natural England. Note: on 1 April 2019 West Somerset Council and Taunton Deane Borough Council were replaced by a new West Somerset and Taunton Council.
The SRA’s Management Group and Technical Group engage with SRA partners and many other organisations and individuals as required, such as FLAG (the Flooding on the Levels Action group), West Somerset Flood Group, Yeovil Rivers Community Trust, Brue Crew, The Mead residents’ group near Ilchester, NFU, CLA, Somerset Catchment Partnership, Somerset Wildlife Trust, RSPB, Highways England, Somerset Water Management Partnership, etc.
Together, SRA partners are leading the delivery of Somerset’s 20 Year Flood Action Plan.
The SRA’s distinctive role is to identify extra work that needs to be done and to fund and commission its delivery across Somerset.
A Joint SRA Scrutiny Panel has been established, with members drawn from the county council, district councils and IDBs, to help ensure that the SRA is fulfilling its purpose.