SRA Annual Report 2019-20: Purpose of Somerset Rivers Authority

Somerset Rivers Authority exists for reasons rooted in the county’s long history of flooding. Records show repeated flooding and repeated calls for action. After Athelney flooded twice in the winter of 1929-30, The Times reported that “adequate measures are urgently needed to prevent further disaster”. After West Somerset flooded in 1952, the district council called for an inquiry “to see how in future such calamities could be avoided”. After Taunton, West Somerset and 50,000 acres of the Somerset Levels flooded in 1960, influential figures called for local bodies to be given more power to carry out flood prevention schemes. What happens in response? Records show a consistent pattern of some progress being made, but things then petering out as funding is reduced and people’s determination dwindles…

In broad historic terms, the purpose of Somerset Rivers Authority is to help Somerset crack persistent problems and break out of old unsatisfactory ways of tackling them. It was during the devastating floods of 2013-14 that Somerset decided to try a new approach. A range of partners drew up a 20 Year Flood Action Plan. Somerset Rivers Authority was launched in January 2015 to oversee that Plan and do the extra work that its flooding history has shown Somerset needs. Some important aspects of this work – such as enhancements of the River Sowy and King’s Sedgemoor Drain – involve going back to ambitions that people had in the 1960s but could not finally fulfil, and updating them for the 21st century. Over the wet winter of 2019-20 there were heartening signs that the SRA’s work is starting to pay off. This time round, people in other flood-hit parts of the UK asked why Somerset was faring better than other areas.

The truth is that there is no single answer to Somerset’s many flooding problems, and different parts of the county have different needs. That is why the SRA was set up as a partnership between different organisations. Those organisations are limited in what they can do individually, but working together as SRA partners they can achieve more than would otherwise be possible.

Through local taxation, the SRA funds a unique depth and breadth of actions. These are grouped into five workstreams, that reflect the local priorities of the Flood Action Plan and of Somerset people, and the need to attack problems from different angles. In practice, SRA activities include:

extra maintenance, repairs and improvements

  • innovations
  • collaborations
  • enabling major projects to go ahead
  • studies, reviews, and investigations
  • long-term initiatives
  • moves that respond to Somerset’s special characteristics
  • or combinations of the above

This report shows examples of all these things across Somerset.

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