Two new river channels are now flowing on the Somerset Levels, as major engineering works funded by Somerset Rivers Authority provide extra protection against flooding.
The new channels branch off from the Sowy and Langacre, pass under the A372 at Beer Wall near Othery, then reconnect downstream. They more than double the amount of water that can flow underneath the road, through two sets of massive new culverts. Beer Wall was impassable for several weeks in early 2014 – through flooding and then deploying temporary pumps – with damaging, costly effects on local community life and business. As Somerset County Council also previously raised the road by up to 60 centimetres, it would now stay open, were there to be a repeat of the 2013-14 flood.
Cllr John Osman, Chair of Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) and Leader of Somerset County Council, said: “The new improvements at Beer Wall have only been able to happen because of the way that Somerset Rivers Authority is set up to provide extra works that make people’s lives safer and better. This is a scheme that reduces flood risk, maintains access, increases resilience, respects the local environment, promotes business confidence – all aims agreed in Somerset’s 20 Year Flood Action Plan.
“The SRA has used Growth Deal money from the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership at Beer Wall and the plan now is to use more to enhance the whole system of the River Sowy and King’s Sedgemoor Drain. I’m very proud of the excellent work that’s being done and would particularly like to thank the project teams at the Environment Agency and contractors Skanska, who’ve delivered this latest phase for the SRA.”
Dutch engineers were commissioned for the specialist job of designing, fabricating and installing tilting weirs in the two new channels, to get greater control of upstream water levels. The new structures can be controlled remotely by the Environment Agency. Better river gauging equipment and new CCTV cameras have also been installed to improve flood and water level management, and maintain appropriate environmental conditions within an area of international importance for wildlife (chiefly, migratory birds).
Other features include innovative, combined passes for eels and otters, while platforms which will allow disabled people to go fishing are about to be built.
Soft peaty ground made Beer Wall a challenging place for doing major flood risk civil engineering works.
Dr Rachel Burden, Somerset Flood Action Plan Manager for the Environment Agency, said: “We’ve been working in soft peaty ground, within an internationally important conservation site. It has been a very challenging place for doing major flood risk civil engineering works. Skanska’s knowledge of the site, gained from earlier raising the road and then installing the new culverts for Somerset County Council, has proved invaluable. I’m delighted with what we’ve all achieved between us, especially since we’ve done these latest improvements without closing the A372.”
The imminent completion of work at Beer Wall means that Somerset Rivers Authority can move on to the next phase of a complex, interlinked programme to increase the capacity of the Sowy and King’s Sedgemoor Drain (KSD), and thereby relieve the pressures on the Parrett and Tone and reduce the flood risk. Of all the flood risk reduction projects currently being delivered or planned in Somerset, the enhancement of the Sowy / KSD offers the greatest physical benefit across the biggest geographical area.