No this is what parts of Somerset have looked like for a month.
Rain, floods, more floods.
We have entire villages that are no longer connected to the rest of Somerset by land. A pontoon walkway
has been built to allow people from one village simply to reach dry land by walking rather than using boats.
Farms and lone houses isolated by water. Villages underwater.
Rivers that have vanished under tens of thousands of acres of water.
Locals talking about Somerset lakes
The Somerset levels are an area of low lying land between the Mendips hills and the Quantocks hills.
Over known history this area has flooded every year, winter storms rendered the whole area uninhabitable.
Only during the summer could people walk across this entire area and this brings up a local origin story for
the name of the county, Sumorsaete, meaning land of the summer people.
For more than a thousand years attempts have been made to reclaim the 160,000 acres from the water for
use and bit by bit the land has been drained.
For over a month now the water has been taking back that land
good for farming and safe from all but the worst storms.
That ended 20 years ago when dredging and maintenance of the rivers and waterways stopped.
What we are looking at now is the result of years of blockages and silt build-ups, the floods have nowhere
to go and the rivers burst their banks.
Result is that it’s all over the news this week, some government suit is posing in front of the TV cameras
saying how much he cares about the hardship people are suffering.
Oddly people who have been flooded or cut off for weeks now, in the case of Muchelney they have
been surrounded by water since the new year, were slightly less than impressed by a Politician
taking a photo op while telling them everything that is going to be done to help them but at least the
chance to take pictures of a minister outside of Westminster prompted the news types to turn up and
highlight the problem for once.
Villages like Thorney all but abandoned completely, Mulchenley now an island, and some 17,000 acres
are under water. Some areas which are now flooded have not seen flooding for a hundred years or more.
The main land. As I write this it seems both very odd but also very appropriate. The main land, people sailing by
boat from the islands to the mainland.
Strange to think about it in the middle of Somerset but you only need to turn on a TV news channel to see it.
Each year for the last few years we have seen wetter and wetter winters, floods everywhere, warnings and
alerts have become almost routine.
Emergency services and local councils have been preparing flood equipment and each year they find that
they need more equipment and stronger defences because last year was not as bad.
We are also living in times where money is scarce. Local councils do not have a fraction of the funds needed
to save the levels and government funds are often promised but seldom seen.
The environment agency is making promises of limited dredging and support but when you start talking
about hundreds of millions of pounds to patch things up no one is saying anything.
The damage is extensive and it is not just a matter of draining the floods or extending the wetlands to act
as a soak or dredging and most importantly regularly maintaining the waterways.
Insurance is going to pay for a tiny fraction of the damage. Most buildings and structures in the flooded
area have now been under water for so long that foundations need inspection, the saturation of the
underlying soil and the subsequent drying and shrinking after the floods are drain also lead to
Every pipe, every drain or water main, every power cable or telecom cable, these have now been under
water for weeks. They need to be inspected for damage, repaired and protected against the next flood.
Power cables and phone lines can go up on poles which should be high above the flood lines, but what
about all the buried pipes and cables. Gas, water, sewage and more.
Roads have been flooded, the underlying structure most likely damaged or swept away, once the floods
recede and things dry out pot holes will spout like weeds across the whole region or the roads will simply
In short we are looking at a vast undertaking, repairing, rebuilding and either making sure this doesn’t
happen again OR protecting the inhabitants and services from next year’s floods.
This leads us to a crunch point.
This was even raised at Prime Ministers Question Time today and no less a figure than the PM promised
that dredging would start as soon as it was safe, that more pumps would be sent in and that the
emergency committee was looking into what could be done.
But given that the pump house all those reporters seem to be standing next to when doing reports is
costing in excess of £100,000 a week just to keep it running, it is using equipment put there in 1949
and while photogenic is merely the largest amongst many and in this time of reduced funds
and lack of money just how is this going to be paid for.
Our national coastlines have been battered and our flood defences hit hard, in some cases those
defences failed, shattered by the storms. The Same environment agency that stopped maintaining
the levels twenty years ago is currently shedding staff by the hundred to cut costs and we hear is
discussing abandoning areas of the coast because repairing the defences would be too expensive.
I hear plans about extending the range of the wet lands to soak up more of the flood waters, that is
a fairly cheap option given that they are already naturally returning to that state now as they flood
again and again.
I hear plans about starting dredging but how much of the many hundreds of miles of water ways
will be properly dredged and then repaired and then maintained. Twenty years of neglect is not
going to be fixed overnight and the fact that this area has flooded will certainly create damage in
the waterways that needs to be repaired.
Without substantial work to prevent this happening again every farm, every village and every person
and company in the entire area has essentially become uninsurable. The land all but worthless,
properties likewise, who is going to buy something that is now likely to be flooded for months of the
The locals are not in a position to carry this financial load, they need help to stay and in all too many
cases would need help to leave the area since they cannot sell their houses and more since they
cannot sell those houses.
So we need many millions of pounds to deal with the current flooding and pump out the waters, once
the rain stops anyway. Day 57 here in Somerset where we have had medium to heavy rain in the
county every single day.
Many tens of millions more to start dredging the rivers and begin repairing them.
Many tens of millions more to repair the damage and infrastructure has suffered, roads that need to
be rebuilt, buildings that need to be inspected and repaired where foundations have been flooded
and damaged, utilities that have been under water for a month now.
Many more millions in ongoing costs to maintain the pumps, dredge the waterways each year and
keep the levels above water.
So where does that money come from?
I am hearing promises but in an era when money is seldom available for projects of this nature I will
wait to see the money spent before I believe it.
Until then Somerset is living with several new inland lakes and has become a second Lake District.
Perhaps we can get some tourists in for boating holidays in the summer.