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« What to do with a hot model | Main | The headless chickens »
Sunday
Feb022014

The big EAsy

The attempts to link the flooding in the south of England to climate don't seemed to have gained much traction and attention is now turning to the performance of the Environment Agency, which is probably where it should have been all along.

The Sunday Telegraph says that agency chairman Lord Smith is under pressure, not least because he has no fewer than ten other jobs, while James Forsyth in the Mail on Sunday reckons that Owen Paterson is already looking around for a replacement. Even the organiser of the Glastonbury festival - an enthusiastic climate change campaigner - seems to think that the problem is more to do with the agency's refusal to dredge rivers than global warming.

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Reader Comments (40)

Given that many of the Agencies have been throwing money at climate change modelling, etc.,is it surprising that there is no money left for river maintenance?

How much money has people like Myles Allen received over the last tens years from these and other Agencies? The only outcome seems to be naff modelling e.g. the 11 degree C prediction rom ClimatePrediction.Net.

The people of Somerset deserve better than this.

Perhaps a few FOIs are needed to see just how much money has been diverted to the Alarmists that could have been used to maintain the rivers!

Feb 2, 2014 at 8:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

The failures have been exposed at http://www.insidetheenvironmentagency.co.uk for at least the past 8 months. Other people have been exposing the failures even long than this. A new boss will do little without a full and independent review of all functions within the EA. Perhaps chop a significant number of functions to focus it on its proper priorities. Who will have the guts to push it through? Owen has been in a long while now, and only now does he begin to look at it!

Feb 2, 2014 at 8:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterAllan

EA motto: If it ain't broke, fix it.

There was a management system in place before the EA were involved and which made The Levels what they were. EA involvement changed that and made The Levels into what they have become.

There is a lesson there with a wider implication than just Somerset.

Feb 2, 2014 at 8:20 PM | Unregistered Commenterssat

OT:
"Tell us we're all doomed, MPs beg climate scientists"
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/01/31/tell_us_were_all_doomed_mps_beg_climate_scientists/

Feb 2, 2014 at 8:23 PM | Unregistered Commenterartwest

Could all the fuss about Michael Gove removing the head of Ofsted who happens to be a Labour Party supporter have been deliberately whipped up by the Labour Party and its allies in the BBC and the Guardian etc., in order to distract attention from the fact that the head of the Environment Agency, Lord Smith, is a former labour minister?

Feb 2, 2014 at 9:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

I think, deliciously, it was an own goal by the BBC themselves that kicked off this whole pent up anger at the management strategy of the Environment Agency. The action happened on the Today programme. Mid last week Sara Montague was building up the 'extreme' rainfall 'Climate Change' innuendo nicely, then out of the blue came a slot with the local Somerset MP who, unexpectedly and unopposed, managed to launch a lethal exocet right into the guts of the Environment Agency for failing to maintain the special Dutch type reclaimed land drainage system on the Somerset levels while spending resources instead on a nature sanctuary. The next morning, Lord Smith compounded the damage by trying to claim dredging was of limited value. After that, the S*** hit the F** bigtime.

Feb 2, 2014 at 9:33 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Yes, down here in Summerzet the green fog is gradually clearing away and environmental issues are being thrown int o sharp focus for once.

In a nutshell - "Are the living conditions of water voles really more important than those of taxpayers?"

Feb 2, 2014 at 9:57 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

"Progress, which for so long has been about dominating the forces of nature, is now going to involve some accommodation with it."

-The Guardian

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/02/britains-floods-strategy-on-the-level

Feb 2, 2014 at 10:14 PM | Registered Commentershub

Remind me. What happens when the rapidly flowing water in a dredged river meets the rising tide?

Feb 2, 2014 at 10:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

EM

Ever hear of a sluice gate? They're cutting edge technology we've been using down here in Somerset for a couple of hundred or so years.

You open them at low tide and close 'em just before high tide.

The computer modelling to work it all out was a bugger though.

Feb 2, 2014 at 10:36 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

EM - nice try but no banana - AIUI - the EA's own flood models show it all works fine - it was a political decision to neglect The Levels (and keep taking the precepts from local taxpayers for maintenance whilst shafting them)

Lord Smiffy is history - he's heading off with his pension pot in a few weeks - not that he actually contributed that much as a £100K a year part timer apart from parroting whatever was put in front of him when he deigned to be dragged away from promoting his other worthy causes.

The EA is a bloated dysfunctional bureaucracy that sounds like a godawful place to work - Byzantine in the original pejorative sense - without the old inventive ways of disposing of under-performing emperors... The nabobs of the EA are keeping their heads down at the moment and tasking their 350+ "reputation management professionals" with flooding the media with considerable quantity of self regarding, mendacious bilge - ably assisted by GMG-BBC as it's a convenient ambush a Tory skirmish (I carry no political torch - but exploiting the partisan angle suits the EA goons just fine)

The delivery of a long term and highly critical investigation report from an external body into the EA's toxic culture, woeful levels of competence, financial incontinence etc., etc. would be rather unfortunate at the present moment Sir Humphrey... more Port? - can we arrange something?

Chris Smith is just a disposable flack magnet - look for Paul Leinster and David Jordan amongst others - and expect some amazing displays of "bunker mentality" - I feel a downfall parody coming on.

Feb 2, 2014 at 10:46 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Entropic Man

Medieval engineers managed to reclaim the Romney Marsh by digging drainage dykes and earthen sea walls while opening and closing the sluice gates appropriately on the low and high tides. Their work even withstood the worst storms in history in 1287 along the feature known as the Rhee Wall. The Rother today has tidal sluice gates on it.

Feb 2, 2014 at 10:52 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Remind me. What happens when the rapidly flowing water in a dredged river meets the rising tide?
Feb 2, 2014 at 10:27 PM Entropic man

You forgotten already? It waits for low tide as it has always done.

Feb 2, 2014 at 11:04 PM | Unregistered Commentersplitpin

"Somerset" comes from words that meant summer lands. This was because the land was only used in the summer because it was too flippin' wet in the winter.

I believe the moors are below peak tide level and that the water flow from upstream is now arriving sooner. One local said that what used to take two days to arrive downstream now took only 8 hours. Presumably, the upstream land use has changed.

So, lack of dredging may play a part but there is more going on.

Another rumour suggested that the EU wanted to preserve the wetlands rather than dredge.

Feb 2, 2014 at 11:06 PM | Unregistered Commentergraphicconception

@graphicconception

It's clear that Somerset Levels water levels can be managed - and have been managed successfully - for some considerable time up to the time of Barbara Young's tenure at the EA. Deluded eco-loonery at board level drove the idea of a wetland paradise for birdies which they couldn't actually implement directly so they chose to run it down and not do maintenance - whilst still insisting on taking the maintenance money...

The fact that Michael Eavis is laying into the EA should be a wake up call to the Guardian-BBC gang - hey guys 'n gals - if you really p*ss him off - that's a few weeks fully expensed hedonism at Glasto down the toilet maybe... oh, how I'd laugh if Sky / MTV got the gig and GMG were banned from Worthy Farm </fantasy>

Feb 2, 2014 at 11:19 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Under more normal conditions sluices work. Unfortunately the recent unusual combination of high river flow and storm surges is overloading the system. Open the sluices, the exceptional spring tide backs up the high river flow and it floods. Close the sluices and you dam the river; the high river flow fills the river bed and it floods.

Dredging would make very little difference to the Somerset Levels under these conditions and the greater mass flow in the rivers might make it even worse. Either way, nothing will ease until the stream of deep depressions abates. That wont be until the blocking weather across the US breaks and stops energising the Atlantic jetstream.

This one you cant blame on global warming. This weather pattern was normal for the 1830s and has declined since. The last time it occured was 18 years ago. Global warming is decreasing its likelihood, not increasing it.

Feb 3, 2014 at 12:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

The Corps of Engineers had this problem on the Mississippi. The storm surge that accompanied Hurricane Katrina filled the channels and backed up a high river flow. They had to deliberately flood a large area of the rural Mississippi valley to take pressure off the levees protecting the towns.

Feb 3, 2014 at 12:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Wow, it's taken Entropic Man less than the 2 1/2 hours, between his first two postings. to go from apparent complete ignorance of sluices in Somerset to becoming an authority on the subject.
Can a Nobel prize in the field be more than a week away?

Feb 3, 2014 at 2:10 AM | Unregistered Commenterartwest

EM has the full range of Dummies books... his latest must be

Dykes for Dummies

My Dad, Dutch Civil Engineer, brought up in some "god awful" place in Northern Holland, who built dams among other things, he would have laughed at this.

This is just pure mis-management. Sad when 400 year old "civil engineers" are turning in their graves looking at this incident.

Feb 3, 2014 at 4:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

"
The Corps of Engineers had this problem on the Mississippi. The storm surge that accompanied Hurricane Katrina filled the channels and backed up a high river flow. They had to deliberately flood a large area of the rural Mississippi valley to take pressure off the levees protecting the towns.

Feb 3, 2014 at 12:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man"

Well, that was one amazing storm Katrina. Now you tell me that the counterclockwise winds somehow backed up the river flow. I assume you mean the Mississippi River? The river whose exit is seventy some miles southwest of New Orleans.

Oh, I get it; ether Katrina reversed wind direction for awhile, or the storm took a big swing around to have another go? That way the storm had time to first inundate the Mississippi's upper reaches so the river would run high...

Or are you referring to the Lake Borgne waters being pushed into Lake Pontchartrain and the Intracoastal Waterway? The Intracoastal Waterway are 'international shipping' shortcuts intended to make for shorter safer ship movements than heading up/down Mississippi river for seventy some miles.

Lake Pontchartrain is described as brackish, Lake Borne is decidedly salty; neither lake has a decided 'flow' as rivers do, both are very tidal.

Sloppy physical science, sloppy climate science, same old same old.

Feb 3, 2014 at 4:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterATheoK

You are all being a bit unfair to entropic. First of all he is explicitly saying this cannot be blamed on global warming. This is true and sensible, but blaming it on just that is very common among the faithful, so give him credit for that.

Second, could he not actually be right? There will be a period during which closing the sluice gates will dam the river's downward flow. It may not be very long, but if the river is dramatically swollen at the same time as there is a powerful tide and storm surge, it is possible that this could lead to bursting of banks. It will take a rare combination of high tides, low pressure, wind driving onshore after a period of intense rain and rivers near to the top of their banks. But it seems plausible that in these circumstances barriers would not help.

In general of course blocking the storm surge is the right thing to do and will save the situation. As the Dutch know, and as the Thames barrier shows.

Feb 3, 2014 at 8:57 AM | Unregistered Commentermichel

"[...] the Environment Agency for failing to maintain the special Dutch type reclaimed land drainage system on the Somerset levels while spending resources instead on a nature sanctuary."
Feb 2, 2014 at 9:33 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

I was thinking along similar lines, Pharos. I recall well a Dutch engineer I met in 1996. On the subject of creating and maintaining a country below sea-level, she memorably told me that all it needed was
"an arsehole on a boat".

Perhaps boats are in short supply these days.

Feb 3, 2014 at 9:25 AM | Unregistered Commentermichaelhart

...Even the organiser of the Glastonbury festival - an enthusiastic climate change campaigner - seems to think that the problem is more to do with the agency's refusal to dredge rivers than global warming....

Don't forget the abandonment of flood control reservoirs at the head of the Severn, and their alteration into standard potable water storage. Which left the hydrologists with no mitigation control actions. Because we were never going to have rain again....

Feb 3, 2014 at 9:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

"Even the organiser of the Glastonbury festival - an enthusiastic climate change campaigner - seems to think that the problem is more to do with the agency's refusal to dredge rivers than global warming."

Makes me wonder what they would make of all the public money that was wasted by the Forestry Comission ensuring that drought resistant trees were planted.

Feb 3, 2014 at 10:16 AM | Unregistered Commentertom0mason

Last week Lord Smith explicitly denied that lack of dredging contributed to the seriousness of the flooding. Yet an internal report at the EA in 2012 pointed out that this was false ? So - Lord Smith lied ?

It seems to me that Lord Smith should be forced to resign for this lie. Letting him serve out his term is not good enough.

And senior staff at the EA should also be considering resigning.

Also - river management in the Somerset Levels should be given to the drainage boards, as applies in the Norfolk Broads. The EA simply cannot be trusted.

Feb 3, 2014 at 10:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Anderson

EM

"Close the sluices and you dam the river"

Which, I gather, is exactly what has happened in Somerset, because the EA stopped bothering with both the dredging and the flow control, so the sluices have not been opened at low tide (which happens just as often as high tide, and to the same extent, i.e. low spring tides are extra-low).

Feb 3, 2014 at 10:38 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

I read Smith's recent drool - choice is between town and country, because they don't have bottomless pit. Yeh f...ing right, look at the waste of time and money your staff are responsible for. Get a handle man and sort out the mess inside your organisation, then maybe you wouldn't need to make a choice.

Feb 3, 2014 at 10:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterSSN

Slight changes in the cross section of channel or river can make big changes in the flow possible. Someone ought to calculate how changes in cross section of river with and without dredged silt impact on flow rates.

Feb 3, 2014 at 11:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

Pharos: you have got it correct. EM, as usual, is delivering nonsense. The rivers are largely irrelevant to the flooding of the Levels, but of course they should be maintained to let water from the higher hinterland to flow to the sea through the levels though they are banked above high water level so the sea flows in and out. The Levels, like all coastal low lands, are drained by ditches that carry the water from land lying below HWL to the sea via sluices that open when the tide falls and close as the tide rises - absolutely standard practice, especially in Holland (the word sluice even is dutch). The most important factor is that the sluices close as the tide rises otherwise the same water just comes back which is what is happening now. The main sluice at Huntspill has been abandoned for years partly open. Result - floods. Nothing to do with climate change, unusual weather etc, just sheer human incompetence.

Feb 3, 2014 at 12:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterVernon E

Artwest

Just widely read. You should try it.

Feb 3, 2014 at 12:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

[Snip - manners]

Feb 3, 2014 at 12:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterSSN

EM - do you work for the EA per chance?

Feb 3, 2014 at 1:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterSSN

SSN

I enjoy analysing problems like this? This retired science teacher does it for fun. Why does it make you annoyed?

Vernon E

I suspect that the Somerset Levels drainage scheme has been designed to cope with either storm surges or high rainfall. The last six weeks have brought a series of deep depressions which have delivered both at once.

No wonder that the drainage has been overloaded.

Feb 3, 2014 at 1:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

I take offence with the staunch defence you give on behalf of the EA and your closed-mindedness to potential problems lying therein.

Feb 3, 2014 at 1:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterSSN

Feb 3, 2014 at 11:09 AM | Charlie
Volumetric fow rate is proportional to (Cross-section area to power 5) / (Wetted perimeter to power 2), for given gradient; so for maximum discharge you aim to minimise wetted perimeter for the given area, which results in the ideal (but not very practical in a river) cross-section of a semi-circle. A rectangular cross section of width = twice depth is the most efficient rectangle. There'll likely be a target maximum velocity, dependent on the nature of the river banks, to limit erosion.

Feb 3, 2014 at 2:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveS

You only have to have seen the 'before' and 'after' pictures of the River Parrett (shown VERY QUICKLY on Sky News)to realise that the lack of dredging would have reduced the river's capacity by around 50%...

Feb 3, 2014 at 2:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterSherlock1

There's a letter in today's Telegraph from a drainage board official who was at an EA meeting where dredging was suspended because of the discovery of a "hairy click beetle".

No doubt, as we speak, teams of green NGO media folk are desperately photoshopping images of pretty, cuddly, hairy click beetles romping with their young - or staring wistfully from little islands in the flood.

Feb 3, 2014 at 3:01 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

There is nothing to suggest the drainage system is overloaded - its just plain broken.

Feb 3, 2014 at 3:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterVernon E

1:31 PM Entropic man

I suspect that the Somerset Levels drainage scheme has been designed to cope with either storm surges or high rainfall. The last six weeks have brought a series of deep depressions which have delivered both at once.

Had you indulged your passion for reading perhaps , you might have picked up the salient features of the present squelchiness in Somerset? Hint: try this for starters from last year

Leaving the Huntspill sluice rusting and half open for years, the already done to death lack of dredging, the abject failure to collaborate with other organisations, a carnival of lies, misdirection and obstruction. Plus a hefty dollop of hubristic stupidity from Baron Smiffy insisting the floods were categorically due to the "wrong type of rain".

The EA are statutorily obligated to manage the rivers through the Somerset Levels - this has been done by other people for hundreds of years (without legal obligation) with low technology and some considerable success (the occasional flood - but hey, nobody I think is saying it'd be "flood free" always). Delinquency in the discharge of statutory duties is what has been going on here - and heads should roll.

This is deliberate and culpable neglect on an epic scale - there's enough funding - it's just that the EA is as epic in its self indulgence as it is in its willful perversity and arbitrariness - ignore the fact that Spock is a Tory and just look at the numbers - then tell us that they're doing a good job.

The mess in Somerset and elsewhere is a consequence of a culture where bureaucratic whim trumps the facts (and clear duty) and where miscreants are protected from the consequences of their misdeeds - this has to change.

Feb 3, 2014 at 10:52 PM | Registered Commentertomo

I am not commenting on the politics, nor on the EA's management strategy. My contention is that conditions since Christmas are more severe than the Somerset Levels drainage system was designed to handle.

Feb 6, 2014 at 10:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

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