Who amongst us can forget the winter floods of four and five years ago? In early 2014, the Environment Agency said 100 million cubic metres of water was covering 65 square kilometres of Somerset soil. By my reckoning, that means we were up to our necks in 40,000 Olympic swimming pools of water.
As those waters receded, more than just the bare earth was revealed. We saw also that one or two duties had been neglected. Not enough thought or contingency planning had taken place. Not enough dredging, silt monitoring, flood management schemes, catchment planning – all the sensible stuff.
We were like Deucalion, the son of Prometheus, who, after the great mythical Greek flood, saw the extent of the destruction and felt grief so great that tears kept pouring from his eyes. His wish was to create a new mankind. Our wish was to create the Somerset Rivers Authority.
And thus local people, elected representatives, the drainage boards, Environment Agency and Natural England came together to draw up a 20 year plan, the government bunged in £1.9m of start-up funding, and the Somerset Rivers Authority (the SRA) sprang into life.
Since then it has ploughed on, silently and deftly managing our waterways and keeping our feet dry. We’ve paid for all this through a small surcharge on all our council tax bills, but the SRA hasn’t been confident in its future funding, as it’s not been able to raise its own precept. That’s because it’s not a statutory body.
That’s where I come in. This week I presented a new Bill to parliament which will, I hope, correct this anomaly. It will allow the Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to anoint the SRA as a statutory body, putting its future funding firmly on terra firma.
That’s the plan anyway. Even with government support, taking a Private Member’s Bill through parliament is an extraordinarily complicated process, with minefields on all sides and assassins hiding behind every twig, but I’m giving it a go. And I hope it’ll mean nothing leaks over the sides of our wellies for some years to come.