George Monbiot spanks the dredging argument

The image shows flooding on the Somerset Levels on 23 January 2014. Bridgewater and Taunton can be seen in the top-left and centre-left respectively; the M5 motorway is visible. Yeovil is at the bottom-right. Landsat-8 satellite image courtesy of  NASA / USGS.

The image shows flooding on the Somerset Levels on 23 January 2014. Bridgewater and Taunton can be seen in the top-left and centre-left respectively; the M5 motorway is visible. Yeovil is at the bottom-right. Landsat-8 satellite image courtesy of NASA / USGS.

I’ve just come across George Monbiot’s article of 30th January in the Guardian. With the relentless increase in the flooding on the Somerset Levels in the ten days since then, and Westminster politicians falling over themselves to back dredging as the solution to all the winter floods, it’s worth stepping back and looking at what the Environment Agency themselves have been saying about dredging. George Monbiot linked to a presentation from the EA themselves which is worth taking five minutes to read: To dredge or not to dredge.

The River Parrett is a silt conveyor, not a silt trap. It’s true that the channel narrows with slit deposits and the carrying capacity of the river can be increased by dredging, but it already conveys vast quantities of silt from the land out to the Bristol Channel, as can be seen in the following Landsat image from June last year:

Silt carried into Bridgwater Bay and the Bristol Channel from the Somerset rivers.

Silt carried into Bridgwater Bay and the Bristol Channel from the Somerset rivers.

There is absolutely no doubt that these are the worst flood on the Levels in living memory – an area that I knew very well from living and working in Somerset over a period of 20 years – but I have a feeling that the river and drainage systems are complex and chaotic and not simply amenable to bigger and deeper ditches, rhynes, drains and rivers.

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