SRA Annual Report 2019-20: Progress against Flood Action Plan targets
The Somerset Levels & Moors Flood Action Plan was published in March 2014, at the end of 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 Flood Action Plan. It has six main objectives, stretching over 20 years:
1) Reduce the frequency, depth and duration of flooding.
2) Maintain access for communities and business.
3) Increase resilience to flooding for families, agriculture, businesses, communities, and wildlife.
4) Make the most of the special characteristics of Somerset (with internationally important biodiversity, environment and cultural heritage).
5) Ensure strategic road and rail connectivity, both within Somerset and through the county to the South West peninsula.
6) 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 Somerset’s 20 Year 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 funded the pioneer dredging of a further 750m of the Parrett downstream of Northmoor Pumping Station in 2016, and the pioneer dredging of 2.2km of the Parrett between Stathe and Burrowbridge in 2019. For more on this subject, including the SRA’s use of water injection dredging techniques combined with silt monitoring, see the W1 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: Over the winter of 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 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: Somerset Rivers Authority has so far approved 178 actions across Somerset. For a summary like this, one thread may serve to show the SRA’s approach. Since 2016, SRA funding has allowed for extra pro-active drain jetting at locations known to suffer problems with flooding. In 2019, with a good spread of records now available, the effectiveness of this preventative maintenance programme was assessed. At 26 places, drains have now been jetted many times. This indicates intrinsic problems which it makes sense to fix. With this ‘better understanding’, in March 2020 the SRA Board chose to invest in ‘infrastructure solutions’, namely asset upgrades at frequently-jetted sites. After investigations, and possibly excavations, have been carried out, it is expected that collapsed sections of drains will be repaired, or systems made larger.
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 delivery date previously lined up for a Bridgwater Tidal Barrier was between 2030 and 2050, ideally 2046. The SRA has accelerated the Barrier’s progress, by using Growth Deal money from the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership to assist the Environment Agency and Sedgemoor District Council through the project’s initial stages. Specifically, Growth Deal funding was provided to enable the project team to reach the point of submitting an application for the Transport and Works Act Order that is required to build the Barrier. This application went in to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) just before Christmas in 2019. A Barrier is expected to be ready for use in 2024. It will protect at least 11,300 homes and 1,500 businesses. For more details, see the W1 section of this report.
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 still pending, the SRA is hosted by Somerset County Council, and has no independent legal status.
Catchment-sensitive farming / Natural Flood Management (NFM)
We must: Support farmers to maximise the benefits from catchment sensitive farming, especially regarding run-off in the upper catchment.
What we have achieved: More than 600 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 330 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 263 of those 330-plus natural flood management schemes. This includes direct land management improvements across 1,600 hectares of land through online NFM auctions. 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 three national and international 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 major SRA review of SuDS at 20 recently-developed sites in Somerset looked in detail at planning and implementation issues. This unique piece of work is now being followed up with the production of Somerset-specific guidance for property developers on best practice. Other activities such as SuDS inspections also aim to ensure that urban run-off is well managed.
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 communities, parish councils, the Environment Agency, district councils, emergency services and other interested parties on various moves to help people prepare for – or respond to – any future floods. Support including equipment and training was given to residents producing community flood resilience plans. These plans – rooted in local geography, knowledge and need – 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. Other recent initiatives are outlined in 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:Somerset Rivers Authority is run by a Board of partners from Mendip District Council, Sedgemoor District Council, South Somerset District Council, Somerset County Council, Somerset West and Taunton Council, the Parrett and Axe Brue Internal Drainage Boards, the Environment Agency, Wessex Regional Flood & Coastal Committee and Natural England.
The SRA’s Management Group and Technical Group engage with SRA partners and many other organisations and individuals as required, as seen throughout this report, from enthusiastic individuals to big bodies like the RSPB (1 million+ members) and the National Trust (5 million+ members).
SRA partners lead the delivery of Somerset’s 20 Year Flood Action Plan.
A Joint SRA Scrutiny Panel has also been established, with members drawn from the county council, district councils and IDBs, to help ensure that the SRA is fulfilling its purpose. That is to give Somerset the greater flood protection and resilience that long experience has shown it needs.