Fenland: MP Demands River Dredging To Prevent Flooding

31 January 2014, 16:13 | Updated: 3 February 2014, 11:32

The MP for North East Cambridgeshire says the Environment Agency must to more to prevent flooding - by dredging the Old Bedford River.

Steve Barclay is calling on the EA to make sure lessons of the Somerset floods, are applied in the Fens.  Mr Barclay says dredging is not taking place in all the recommended areas along the Old Bedford River.

For more than a month the A1101 Welney Causeway - has been shut by flooding.  Mr Barclay says not dredging the river IS increasing the risk of local flooding: "One of the lessons of the floods in Somerset, is that it's been made worse by the gaps in drainage in that area. I'm keen we learn the lessons here.

Whilst some areas of the Old Bedford River have been dredged, there are some areas as identified by the Internal Drainage Board as needing dredging that are not currently being touched, and I think we need to get that fixed."

In a statement to Heart, a spokesman from the Environment Agency says: "The A1101 Welney Causeway crosses the Ouse Washes, which is a flood storage reservoir. The Washes are designed to contain water for a prolonged period of time.

The reservoir stores water that has come down from the upper reaches of the River Great Ouse; from Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire, which would otherwise threaten riverside communities in these areas. 

The Ouse Washes ‘hold’ the flood flows behind raised embankments and thus prevent thousands of hectares of prime agricultural land in the Fens from being flooded.

The Old Bedford River is part of the Ouse Washes Flood Storage Reservoir within the raised embankments.

The term dredging is often used to explain two different types of activity; desilting which involves the removal of accumulations of silts and sediments in specific sections of a channel in order to restore the channel to a previous depth, or actual dredging which goes further than desilting and involves enlarging the original channel to increase capacity and flow of water through the channel by deepening and widening it. 

Dredging the Old Bedford River to increase capacity and move the water more quickly though the system would not necessarily result in the desired outcome of reducing the number of days the A1101, Welney Causeway, is underwater. 

Increasing the capacity of the Old Bedford River in this way would have the effect of increasing the amount of water we were able to store within the flood storage reservoir until we are able to discharge the water out to sea.

The Washes store enormous amounts of water (90,000,000m3) and no amount of dredging of the Old Bedford River could contain that water or discharge it any quicker.  Our ability to discharge water from the Ouse Washes is restricted by our ability to operate the gates at the John Martin Sluice at Welmore.

We are only able to open the gates to discharge flood water into the tidal River Ouse at low tide.  During periods of high rainfall water comes into the Ouse Washes Flood Storage Reservoir at a greater rate than we are able to discharge it."