Work to improve part of Somerset’s flood prevention network will be carried out in stages in light of high costs.

The River Sowy carries excess water from within the River Parrett near Langport into the King’s Sedgemoor Drain, which in turn transports it further downstream until it rejoins the river at Dunball.

The Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) is wanting to increase the capacity of the two channels so that more water can be carried downstream from the Somerset Levels, thereby reducing the risk of flooding.

But with the whole enterprise to cost between £12M and £15M, the SRA’s board has voted to carry out the work in stages rather than waiting for more funding to be made available.

Yeovil Express:

An update on the Sowy situation came before the board at its meeting in Bridgwater on Friday morning (June 8).

Linda Irwin from the Environment Agency said that much of the work being done would depend on progress being made on dredging the River Parrett between Oath and Burrowbridge.

She said: “We are looking at less-expensive options to maximise the available funding.”

Delaying part or all of the work on the two channels would be problematic because of restrictions on how the existing funding can be spent.

Around £3.7M has been stumped by the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), which gives money towards major infrastructure projects – but this will be withdrawn unless it is spent by March 2021.

Three parts of the scheme have been singled out for the coming 12 months:

  • De-silting near the Parchey and Dunball bridges (autumn 2018): by removing silt here, the flow of water will be improved and more water will flow out into the sea at Dunball during each tidal cycle
  • Dredging between Oath and Burrowbridge (autumn 2018): dredging the river here will reduce the “frequency, depth and duration” of flooding on Somerset’s upper moors
  • Smoothing concrete obstructions in the King’s Sedgemoor drain (summer 2019): this will reduce turbulence within the water, protecting the A38 bridge piers and increasing the flow of water out of the Dunball sluice

Yeovil Express:

The precise costings of these three schemes have not been released to the public due to commercial sensitivity.

Any remaining money will be targeted on improvements on the King’s Sedgemoor Drain and the ‘lower Sowy’ (the section upstream of Beer Wall near Aller).

Specifically, the channel will be excavated to increase capacity and the existed flood banks will be raised with the dredged material.

Ms Irwin said: “The quantity of excavation will be determined by the size of flood banks that can be permitted in any location. Therefore the excavation will not be as extensive as originally planned.

“Nevertheless, the works that can be achieved will be a stepping stone to the full enhancement scheme.”

Councillor Ric Pallister, leader of South Somerset District Council, said that improving the network in stages was better than waiting for more money to come along.

He said: “I am really pleased that we appear to be taking this incremental approach, rather than sitting there, looking at £12-15M and thinking ‘well, maybe one day’. We just keep eating away, a bit at a time.”

Yeovil Express: