Two sites along King’s Sedgemoor Drain are being dredged for Somerset Rivers Authority this autumn, as part of a programme to reduce flood risks across 150 square miles.
Silt and overhanging vegetation are being removed at Parchey Bridge near Chedzoy, and at Dunball railway bridge, to give these structures back the capacity to deal with flows they had nearly 50 years ago.
The process is known as ‘fluming’. It will enable more water to pass through the two bridges as quickly and smoothly as possible, and it will reduce the risk of blockages caused by flood debris clogging up their arches.
A floating excavator and barge are being used to move silt and a digger is spreading it over land nearby. The job is being done for Somerset Rivers Authority by the Environment Agency, using contractors GBV (Galliford Try and Black & Veatch) and dredging specialists Land & Water. Funding is coming from the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (HotSWLEP) Growth Deal.
Cllr John Osman, Chair of Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA), said: “I’m very pleased to see this fluming going ahead. It means that about 20,000 cubic metres of water will be able to pass through on every tide cycle. Water that would otherwise end up spilling over onto the land, and then threatening farms, roads and properties.
“The work is part of the SRA’s plan to improve the whole interlinked system of the River Parrett, the River Sowy and King’s Sedgemoor Drain, which will give extra protection to a large part of the Somerset Levels and Moors.
“It follows on from nearly £5million worth of work already done for the SRA at Beer Wall near Othery, Chedzoy Flap and Dunball – and more’s on the way. There’ll be further improvements at Dunball next year and we’re planning to increase the capacity of key parts of the Sowy and King’s Sedgemoor Drain through work in these rivers’ channels and on their banks.
“Bit by bit, the SRA and its partners are making a big difference.”
Steve Hindley CBE DL, Chair of HotSWLEP, said: “The LEP’s Growth Deal funding is being used throughout Devon, Somerset, Plymouth and Torbay for a broad range of projects that all contribute towards generating growth in the local economy.
“This scheme is part of Somerset’s 20 Year Flood Action Plan that the LEP is supporting with £13.05m from the Growth Deal package. Following the floods of 2014 it’s crucial to improve the resilience of these areas to safeguard homes and commercial premises, in order to create new jobs and boost business confidence.”
The River Sowy is a man-made river conceived as a Parrett Flood Relief Channel after huge floods deluged Somerset in 1960. It was dug out between 1969 and 1972, when works also included the fluming of local bridges, with the concreting of parts of the river bed around these bridges.
The Sowy is used by the Environment Agency to take excess water away from the River Parrett near Aller. It goes down via Beer Wall to the KSD near Greylake, then water re-joins the Parrett at Dunball. Providing more capacity in the Sowy-KSD system, so that it can be used more effectively, is a key aim of Somerset’s 20 Year Flood Action Plan, which is overseen by Somerset Rivers Authority.
Sowy-KSD works so far have included the creation of new river channels under the A372 at Beer Wall, the installation of a new water control gate near Chedzoy and the removal of obstructive masonry from under Dunball Old Bridge, which carries A38 traffic southbound.
Jake Berry, the Government’s Minister for Local Growth, responsible for Local Enterprise Partnership policy, said: “This Government is committed to boosting economic growth across the whole of the UK and building a Britain fit for the future.
“We are investing in strengthening infrastructure in the Heart of the South West LEP. Sowy-King’s Sedgemoor Drain work is one part of the wider Flood Action Plan programme that spans across the Heart of the South West LEP. The Flood Action Plan project, which has received a total of £13.5m Local Growth Funding, will ensure protection and reassure local businesses and people against the threat of future flooding.”