Get yourself a bottle of cola, pour the contents into a jug, re-fill the bottle half way with sand and - surprise surprise - when you try and put the cola back in there is no longer enough room. It overflows!
This is exactly what has happened to the two main rivers in my constituency. It happened last year, and the year before too. It has far less to do with climate change than negligent river management. It will happen again and again and again unless we learn the lessons.
The Parrett and Tone rivers flow into the Bristol Channel. They have not been properly dredged for 20 years - ever since the useless Environment Agency was created. As a result they cannot cope with persistent rain, and the whole area of Sedgemoor floods.
Right now thousands of acres are waterlogged, hundreds of people have abandoned their homes, roads are shut and the army is preparing to move in. The Environment Agency’s inadequate pumps are failing to shift enough water and people like me are desperately seeking real help from real experts.
I have been in Strasbourg this week discussing precisely what is needed with my counterparts from Holland. They use far bigger pumps, versatile dredgers, and imaginative engineering. No doubt we Brits are just as capable of making such things, but there isn’t a market for sensible solutions with the Environment Agency in charge.
Why won’t they dredge? Because they don’t like scooping out the silt and building up the banks of the river. They say it costs too much. They would rather see Mother Nature do her worst. The Dutch use dredged silt to build up their own river banks. The Environment Agency believes that silt is a pollutant and heaven forfend that any should be used in this way.
Even in the midst of the current crisis, with the prime minister promising that dredging will soon be undertaken, I am told that the Environment Agency is still bleating to the government that it does not want to use dredgers because it might upset the elver population. Somerset may drown to protect little eels!
Much of Holland is below sea level all the time, but ever since a disastrous flood in 1953 they’ve invested in the very best prevention methods.
Left to the Environment Agency the Netherlands would become the Neverlands. This British quango has lost the confidence of my constituents by losing the plot
The cost of the Somerset clean-up will greatly exceed the price of dredging.
It is about time we learned from the Dutch. Prevention is better than cure.
- Ian Liddell-Grainger is the MP for Bridgwater