UK – Government Declares Major Incident Over Flood Risk in Somerset

The government in the UK has declared a major incident over flood risk in the southwestern county of Somerset, England.

Floods in the Somerset Levels, January 2023. Photo: Mendip District Council

England’s Environment Agency (EA) in partnership with local authorities has taken a decision to declare a major incident on the Somerset Levels to ensure local partners can take a coordinated response to recent flooding. The EA stressed that this is a precautionary move and imminent flooding to properties is not expected, however, the risk of flooding will remain for the coming week.

The Somerset Levels and Moors are designed to store flood water when the rivers flowing through them overtop. The recent heavy rain in England caused spillways (specifically designed low points in the riverbanks) on the Rivers Tone and Parrett to overflow and the excess water is stored on the moors. The area has suffered major flooding in recent years, most notably during the winter of 2013 to 2014.

A pumping operation started last week and additional pumps were deployed on 17 January at Northmoor to reduce the amount of water being stored at Currymoor. The EA expects water levels to reduce in Northmoor, Saltmoor and Currymoor now that river levels have dropped low enough to allow pumping. But declaring a major incident is a sensible step so partners can stay coordinated and ready to respond should the situation worsen.

Ian Withers of the Environment Agency said, “The sight of water on the Somerset Levels and Moors is obviously a concern to those who have suffered from flooding before. Our staff continue to work to the best of their abilities to protect people and properties, install pumps and engage with communities.

“The situation is expected to improve when enhanced pumping begins and we continue to run the Sowy flood relief channel, it is prudent to plan for the worst and going into major incident mode is appropriate, so we coordinate with partners and everyone is ready to respond if needed.”

A period of heavy rain that began around 09 January 2023 caused rivers to rise in several parts of England and Wales. The Environment Agency installed temporary flood barriers along rising rivers at Bewdley in Worcestershire and in Ironbridge and Shrewsbury in Shropshire, among others.

The Environment Agency said that a total of 130 properties across England suffered flood damage across the country. However, over 5,000 properties were protected across the West Midlands, Yorkshire, in the South West and along the Thames.

As of 18 January, the Environment Agency teams were responding to flooding incidents in Somerset, flood risk in the Bristol Avon area and monitoring rising groundwater levels in Dorset.

River Levels

Below is a selection of some of the significant river levels seen in parts of England from 12 to 15 January 2023.

  • River Exe level at Exeter Pynes Stafford Bridge, Exeter, UK: 4.9 metres on 12 January 2023. The previous highest level recorded was 4.56 metres on 20 October 2021. 4.28 metres is the top of the normal range
  • River Exe near Stoodleigh, Tiverton, UK: 3.80 metres on 12 January 2023. 2.50 metres is the top of the normal range
  • River Severn at Haw Bridge, Tirley, Gloucester, UK: 4.96 metres  13 January 2023. 4.50 metres is the top of the normal range
  • River Severn at Bewdley, UK: 4.8 metres 15 January 2023. Flood defences at Bewdley held firm as the River Severn hit its peak early 15 January 2023 after which levels started to fall.
  • River level River Ouse level at Viking Recorder, North Street, York, UK: 4.14 metres 15 January 2023. 5.40 metres is the record high from November 2000. Property flooding is possible above 3.00 metres
  • River Severn at Welsh Bridge, Shrewsbury, UK: 4.5 metres 13 January 2023.  Property flooding is possible at 3.15 metres.