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A cheaper helpline for flooding victims has been opened for calls. The prime minister had called for an end to the Environment Agency's use of premium rate numbers.

 

The new Floodline number - 0345 988 11 88 - was released after complaints that callers were being charged up to 41p a minute to call the existing Environment Agency helpline, with the money going to a private company.

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A cheaper helpline for flooding victims has been opened for calls. The prime minister had called for an end to the Environment Agency's use of premium rate numbers.

 

The new Floodline number - 0345 988 11 88 - was released after complaints that callers were being charged up to 41p a minute to call the existing Environment Agency helpline, with the money going to a private company.

 

it's a bit of a scandal but, what's really been missed is, what's it for? Anyone can sign up for flood alerts, check the EA river level data, weather forecast etc.

 

The real scandal is that people need a helpline to tell them what to do.

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Environment Agency man on BBC this morning did not go down very well with his points about sacrificing farmland in favour of towns and businesses.Presumably he thinks farms aren't really businesses and it's far more important to save the seaside cafe looking out on the beach, because that's a proper business, but farmland looks pretty but doesn't matter what happens to it.Totally urban-centric political bias.It's blindingly obvious that far too much notice is being taken of the siren voices wanting proper maintenance minimised in an effort to boost wildlife, save costs, and if that makes farming there impossible that's another useful benefit.This is revealinghttp://www.insidetheenvironmentagency.co.uk/index.php?controller=post&action=view&id_post=28Why exactly does England and Wales need an Environment Agency "almost the size of the Canadian, Danish, French, German, Swedish and Austrian EAs COMBINED!"- their budget is correspondingly enormous but where does the money go if a January *only* twice as wet as normal (i.e. not outside what might be expected) is causing total chaos and heartbreak.2007 was similarly wet but the floods were nothing like as bad, which indicates the rapid decline in water carrying capacity of the neglected rivers.This is not a natural landscape, it has been drained since Roman times and if the work is stopped it will revert to some kind of wilderness salt marsh.

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Environment Agency man on BBC this morning did not go down very well with his points about sacrificing farmland in favour of towns and businesses.Presumably he thinks farms aren't really businesses and it's far more important to save the seaside cafe looking out on the beach, because that's a proper business, but farmland looks pretty but doesn't matter what happens to it.Totally urban-centric political bias. 

 

That's not what he said though, is it? What he actually said was that we don't have enough money to defend everywhere, and that choices need to be made about what we defend. That's not EA policy either, thats DEFRA policy endorsed by Treasury. The cost-benefit analysis work that the EA is required to do before investing in flood risk management schemes is focussed towards defending properties, businesses and built infrastructure above farmland (and incidentally benefits farmland over semi-natural habitat, but don't let that get in the way of a good rant) but that isn't at the behest of the EA, it's at the behest of DEFRA, Treasury and the Association of British Insurers. I happen to agree with you that the flood policy is too urban-centric, but laying that on the EA is laying it at the wrong door.

 

It's blindingly obvious that far too much notice is being taken of the siren voices wanting proper maintenance minimised in an effort to boost wildlife, save costs, and if that makes farming there impossible that's another useful benefit.

 

 I want to eat, and I want food produced at a decent price.  I want the people who put the effort into food production to be properly and fairly rewarded for their effort.  We're not all farmer-hating tree-huggers. Balancing industrial production with environmental impacts is a reasonable conversation to have isn't it?  The mining industry, the textiles industry, the energy industry and the water industry all had to have it, otherwise we'd still have miners dying of blacklung, we'd still have five day smog outbreaks and our rivers would still be green and blue with industrial dyes.  I don't know of a single serious environmentalist who's suggesting sacrificing the Somerset Levels, or The Fens, but  do you really think if the main rivers were concrete lined and free of any form of habitat whatsoever, this still wouldn't have happened?  I refer you back to 2007.  You say the flooding wasn't as bad, but it was, just in different places, places where water carrying systems were concrete bowls with no habitat whatsoever.  Urban carrying systems in Sheffield and Hull couldn't cope and no-one suggested there that the issue was water voles and kingfishers.  All systems have a design capacity and once it is exceeded, land floods. The debate on the levels should be whether that system is of high enough capacity, and it isn't, what can be done to improve it.  Dredging may help, but it won't be enough on it's own.  I'll ask you what I ask everyone who throws their arms up and blames the tree-huggers - what level of environmental scrutiny do you think is appropriate for the farming industry?

 

Why exactly does England and Wales need an Environment Agency "almost the size of the Canadian, Danish, French, German, Swedish and Austrian EAs COMBINED!"- their budget is correspondingly enormous but where does the money go if a January *only* twice as wet as normal (i.e. not outside what might be expected) is causing total chaos and heartbreak.2007 was similarly wet but the floods were nothing like as bad, which indicates the rapid decline in water carrying capacity of the neglected rivers.

 

Setting aside the fact that the document itself points out that the comparisons between the EA and the bodies identified in Europe are not like-for-like, it also misses out a few (no doubt because they don't support the argument) such as the Dutch who, like us have large areas of low-lying coast to defend (in which sits their capital city, like us) and their flood management agency has a per capita spend higher than us.  Austria has no coast and Denmark has a seperate agency for coastal flood defence which has a substantialy larger budget than the figures quoted in the document. In the US the EPA is a regulatory body only, it doesn't build any flood defences, a task undertaken by individual land owners, state environment departments, city ordnance and the US Army corps of Engineers.  Ask the people of New Orleans how that worked out for them, or anyone who lives on the Mississippi, or in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  It seems an incompetent Environment Agency isn't a pre-requisite for flooding.

 

I'm perfectly happy for the EA to be properly held to account for it's work - that's a must for every public body.  I have no problem criticising the EA when they have it coming, but lets not forget that the EA aren't the only drainage authority on the Levels.  There's the Somerset Levels IDB, a consortium of Local Authority Representatives and local land owners who are equally responsible for land drainage on the Levels.  I've seen no criticism of them at all.  Could it be because they are local councillors and land owners, so it couldn't possibly be their fault?  Do their drains automatically shift more water than the EA carriers because they are local councillors and land owners rather than a Quango? 

 

This is not a natural landscape, it has been drained since Roman times and if the work is stopped it will revert to some kind of wilderness salt marsh.

 

Absolutely.  You can say the same about the Fens, The Isle of Sheppey and coastal Essex and Kent - they are amongst our most important agricultural and food production resource and it's a national priority to maintain their protection.  The question is whether you do that, for every square metre, at whatever the national cost without regard to environmental impacts or the fiscal costs.  Perhaps we should.  But if that's the case, the debate should be a bit more adult than just sticking our tongues out at the EA.

Edited by Just Before Dawn
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The link I posted makes it clear there has been a deliberate policy to keep the area wetter  than in the past.They seem to have succeeded spectacularly.http://www.eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=84683PDF here sets out policy to retain a high water table all year round, which is completely at odds with allowing somewhere for winter rainfall to go.There has been a deliberate policy to make the area wetter.http://www.naturalareas.naturalengland.org.uk/Science/natural/profiles%5CnaProfile85.pdf

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The link I posted makes it clear there has been a deliberate policy to keep the area wetter  than in the past.They seem to have succeeded spectacularly.http://www.eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=84683PDF here sets out policy to retain a high water table all year round, which is completely at odds with allowing somewhere for winter rainfall to go.There has been a deliberate policy to make the area wetter.http://www.naturalareas.naturalengland.org.uk/Science/natural/profiles%5CnaProfile85.pdf

 

 

 

The first document is from an anti-EU think-tank.  Post something penned by someone with CIWEM membership and I might take it seriously.  I can point to four or five flood retention schemes managed by IDBs and the EA that pre-date 'making space for water' just in my neck of the woods.  Branston Island, The Ouse washes, the Nene Washes, Cowbit Wash....all date from the 60s or 70's.  Hardly a flood risk management approach that stems from the EU, then.

 

The second document is a Natural England vision document - it's not policy as NE have no powers to raise or drop water levels.  However, you are right, there has been a broader policy to raise water levels in parts of the Levels (and elsewhere - in the fens, it's been driven largely by Landowners recognising the multiple benefits of raised water levels for agriculture, as well as public supply and wildlife benefits), and I said previously that it's legitimate to look at this again and change it if necessary.  People before wildlife in circumstances like these seems to be a position no reasonable individual would argue with.  I certainly wouldn't.

 

Still no criticism of the IDB though, I see.

Edited by Just Before Dawn
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The first document is from an anti-EU think-tank.  Post something penned by someone with CIWEM membership and I might take it seriously.  I can point to four or five flood retention schemes managed by IDBs and the EA that pre-date 'making space for water' just in my neck of the woods.  Branston Island, The Ouse washes, the Nene Washes, Cowbit Wash....all date from the 60s or 70's.  Hardly a flood risk management approach that stems from the EU, then.

 

The second document is a Natural England vision document - it's not policy as NE have no powers to raise or drop water levels.  However, you are right, there has been a broader policy to raise water levels in parts of the Levels (and elsewhere - in the fens, it's been driven largely by Landowners recognising the multiple benefits of raised water levels for agriculture, as well as public supply and wildlife benefits), and I said previously that it's legitimate to look at this again and change it if necessary.  People before wildlife in circumstances like these seems to be a position no reasonable individual would argue with.  I certainly wouldn't.

 

Still no criticism of the IDB though, I see.

All very good points and I wholeheartedly follow your views.

 

The way that many wetland areas are managed to the benefit of humans and flora and fauna is to MANAGE the water levels with adjustable weir levels (weir penstocks or sluices etc in some river hydraulics parlance). Just wondering why we are still looking at floods - it must be that case that channels haven't been maintained. Hydraulics of the situation explain it.

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All very good points and I wholeheartedly follow your views.

 

The way that many wetland areas are managed to the benefit of humans and flora and fauna is to MANAGE the water levels with adjustable weir levels (weir penstocks or sluices etc in some river hydraulics parlance). Just wondering why we are still looking at floods - it must be that case that channels haven't been maintained. Hydraulics of the situation explain it.

Since they deliberately keep the water table higher through the summer now - in attempt to encourage wading birds and discourage farming - it is hard to see how they can pretend to be surprised when everything overflows after a wet month at start of winter.It's difficult if not impossible to clear the water fast enough when everything was waterlogged to start with.

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Now seeing the real circumstances of the levels (rivers running within dykes, farmland lying below the level of those dykes, huge catchment) it strikes me that there are two issues:

1. How quickly can the rivers drain - how badly are they silted up? They seem to be flowing, is the restriction complained of upstream or at the outfall?

2. The height of river banks is artificial, they are raised to allow rivers to disperse water without routine flooding of farmland. This means that when the river level is high it is above the level of adjacent land. At such times farmlandwill need to be pumped. Presumably these levels form'polders' which attenuate the rate of run off - as have had to be created on other river catchments to prevent spate flooding. Is it credible to provide sufficient pump capacity to cope with the sustained volumes of water which has fallen this year and could the rivers cope with such additional volumes during periods of peak flow? 

 

My suspicion is that, given the prolonged and exceptional rainfall, the actual volumes of water that might have been held in the wetlands if they had been drained to a lower level in summer is very marginal and probably a bit of a red herring. There would have been serious flooding this year regardless of that factor. Presumably the land in question falls within that covered by issue 2 above rather than river channels.

 

As regards the need for dredging I am unclear as to where that is considered necessary - in the main river channels associated with issue 1 above which might affect the rate at which the rivers can drain and therefore the length of time that those rivers run at levels above that of adjacent land, or the ditch network associated with farmland (issue 2) I wonder how well they would cope even had they been dredged and suspect that, given the severity of rainfall, the rivers and outfalls would have needed to be very much wider to avoid the flooding.

 

Similar dilemmas exist at so many other places and, logically, we should withdraw from London, Bristol and so many other major settlements if we are unable to tolerate and accept the personal and financial risks associated with flooding.

 

Finally, we need to reflect that in recent years the resources of Government Agencies at local and national level have been decimated by spending cuts. The old posts of Chief Engineer / Borough Engineer used to be  well respected professionals in highly responsible posts. Where are they now, who do you actually see managing such matters?

Edited by egret
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The first document is from an anti-EU think-tank.  Post something penned by someone with CIWEM membership and I might take it seriously.  

 

http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/cem/pdf/NR111_FTR_CEM-08-09-08.pdf

 

Have a read of page 28, definitely seems like EU policy is being implemented in the Somerset levels to me, despite some existing legislation getting in the way.  I am biased of course as personally I can't stand the EU.

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Finally, we need to reflect that in recent years the resources of Government Agencies at local and national level have been decimated by spending cuts. The old posts of Chief Engineer / Borough Engineer used to be  well respected professionals in highly responsible posts. Where are they now, who do you actually see managing such matters?

 

The differing operators now such as the privatised water companies, the EA, the IDBs etc all have differing funding, investment priorities and the catchment boundaries that the Borough Engineer could not have managed, even if that person was really capable and authoritative.

 

I used to work as a consultant to the EA and even on some flood studies on the River Parrett. Egret, your points are bang on. Its all been looked at and its all manageable, we shouldnt be looking at flooding to this degree whatever the circumstances. Someone's lost the helicopter view, that's for sure and the green lobby has too much power - we have pandered to the EU Regs without consideration for our own interests necessarily. The Levels are being destroyed right now. Thats not the intention, these arent being managed as wetlands effectively. The water levels are controllable however wet it was before the last 7 weeks -the rivers drain naturally to the sea and how the water gets off the land is down to the hydraulics which have all been modelled pretty accurately. Do we have land there below MHWS?  I dont know the exact situation as to what the hold up is with the offloading of water right now but my guess is its down to maintenance of the hydraulic structures. CIWEM publishes some good policy stuff and their website is worth a rummage.

Edited by fluid dynamic
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The differing operators now such as the privatised water companies, the EA, the IDBs etc all have differing funding, investment priorities and the catchment boundaries that the Borough Engineer could have managed, even if that person was really capable and authoritative.

 

I used to work as a consultant to the EA and even on some flood studies on the River Parrett. Egret, your points are bang on. Its all been looked at and its all manageable, we shouldnt be looking at flooding to this degree whatever the circumstances. Someone's lost the helicopter view, that's for sure and the green lobby has too much power - we have pandered to the EU Regs without consideration for our own interests necessarily. The Levels are being destroyed right now. Thats not the intention, these arent being managed as wetlands effectively. The water levels are controllable however wet it was before the last 7 weeks -the rivers drain naturally to the sea and how the water gets off the land is down to the hydraulics which have all been modelled pretty accurately. Do we have land there below MHWS?  I dont know the exact situation as to what the hold up is with the offloading of water right now but my guess is its down to maintenance of the hydraulic structures. CIWEM publishes some good policy stuff and their website is worth a rummage.

Thanks FD, it is good to have some informed input on the subject - I don't know the area well enough other than to have suspicions, hence the questions. I used to live in E Anglia and am familiar with the challenges of reclaimed wetlands there. 

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With the resources already in place it makes me wonder why the Royal Engineers haven't been called in, a few dishevelled military folk being paraded for the TV cameras isn't going to do much good, bring in the big-guns with the heavy-lift Merlin & Chinook helicopters that could patch up flood defenses quicker than a few council vans could.

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Environment minister paying lip service, he would be more use to the people of somerset if he brought a sponge with him !!!..

 

He's no use whatsoever to the people he's watched going through misery and lose everything.

 

They always deny resignation, about 48 hrs before they go.

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See this in SW Regional thread - looks to me like it might explain a part of the problem. Amazing that no reference has been made to it thus far:

 

 

wind gusts got me out of bed, very loud and also hard rain

 

sluice gates not in action

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With the resources already in place it makes me wonder why the Royal Engineers haven't been called in, a few dishevelled military folk being paraded for the TV cameras isn't going to do much good, bring in the big-guns with the heavy-lift Merlin & Chinook helicopters that could patch up flood defenses quicker than a few council vans could.

Perhaps because these days help from the armed forces has to be paid for. Cash-strapped coucils wouldn't want to spend the money.

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True, I saw that a Sikh charity has rallied around a few of their people to held with efforts. As one of them said if this event was occuring anywhere else then the world would be rallied around to provide relief, no matter what 'rated' country a person is on the UN charter charity should still be forthcoming no matter the circumstances.

I can't help but look back to the events in Texas and the southern states a handful of years ago where similar floods destroyed many farming states in the Panhandle as the waters saturated the ground to a point where it simply washed away any vitamins/materials in the ground otherwise capable of sustaining regrowth. Coming up to spring it's going to require a massive effort just to get rid of this stagnant water nevermind purifying the land of toxins and the like now mixed up with it all.

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Absolutely, 2014 will be a complete disaster as all crops will be lost.Most of the grass will need reseeding if/when it dries enough - so no real hay or silage crop this year maybe a light cut in early autumn.

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