Still awaiting orders for rivers dredging
You've probably got the feedback from Wednesday's debate already – but I have to say how encouraged I am as a result of your colleague Richard Benyon's response.
Clearly the message about the desperate situation of farmers on the Somerset Levels has got through to him, which is hardly surprising, given the volume at which it has been delivered.
And there are even signs that he is prepared to repent of his much-quoted (he says out of context) statement about dredging – that there's no point in dredging the Parrett and the Tone because they will merely silt up again.
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I don't know from which particular source he received that nugget of wisdom, but at least he now seems to know and understand that to halt dredging for two decades when it has been a permanent feature of river maintenance for centuries is inviting trouble – and trouble in this case has come in the shape of farmland being drowned for 12 extremely costly months.
What we still haven't got, of course, is an assurance that dredging will be ordered – apparently we shall have to wait until some meeting in April to get the latest on that.
What still worries me slightly is that, while he paid tribute in one part of his response to the intimate knowledge local farmers possess as to the hydrology and management of the Levels, he intends still to take advice from the Environment Agency. And it's the Environment Agency, as we all know, which has been responsible for getting us into this mess in the first place.
I shall not stop beating on Defra's door or, indeed, making life as difficult as I can for the Environment Agency and its nanny-knows-best attitude until we get some real action and some real money being devoted to sorting out the Levels so that farmers can get on with their normal daily activities without having to invest in diving suits.
There are four clear objectives: dredging; upgrading the pumps; moving the pumps on Curry Moor; and constructing a permanent pipeline under the A361 which can be opened up quickly and with nil disruption to traffic to clear water away as soon as a problem starts to build.
Unless and until undertakings to implement all four of these are provided you can expect the clamour to continue. Neither I, nor the local farmers, are prepared to see the work of centuries obliterated by an agency which didn't even exist until 16 years ago and whose positive achievements for the people of Somerset haven't even exhausted the available space on the postage stamp on which I am recording them.