As the people of Cumbria begin to clear up the filthy mess caused by another pulse of rain that swept across the region, my thoughts turned to our own situation here in West Norfolk and particularly The Fens. The ‘unprecedented’ volume of Cumbrian rain that fell there in such a short time was blamed as the cause, but luckily our own Environment Secretary Liz Truss was soon on hand to reassure locals that the Environment Agency’s efforts to protect them had been entirely successful because it had allowed most people time to escape. Not necessarily the most helpful comment when you’re up to your neck in diluted sewage and stinking slime for the second or third time but I guess her job is to extract whatever good political news she can from the disaster.
Cumbria is a long way from The Fens and we all have sympathy for the ongoing misery these people will endure as the agonising process of waiting while insurance companies faff about assessing the condition of sodden homes before builders can start repairing them. But what if those deluges had fallen here?
In the East we all know that thousands of hectares of our farm land and countless low-lying villages, as well as King’s Lynn and the coast, remain increasingly vulnerable to flooding despite calls for greater investment in dredging and river bank maintenance from everyone from scientists to craggy old Fenmen. Basically I believe we are sitting on a powder keg and it’s only a matter of time before the pumps and sluices along the Great Ouse and through the Washes to Earith collapse under the pressure from 14 inches of rain in 24 hours. Countless letters over the years have reached the pages of the Lynn News from people who have watched the sluggish tides deposit millions of tonnes of silt onto the Ouse riverbed, reducing its capacity to cope with heavy rainfall over short periods. Cornelius Vermuyden will be turning in his grave knowing his drainage masterpiece was in the hands of people who have obviously got their heads stuck firmly in the sand and whose long-term policy involves the forlorn hope that ‘Cumbria’ weather doesn’t arrive here on a day when we have low pressure, high tides and a strong north wind blowing down the North Sea.
We are told these ‘unprecedented’ pulses are becoming the norm and unless somebody in authority is prepared to instruct the Environment Agency to dredge riverbeds and flush out the silted-up sluices, we are facing watery Armageddon and believe me, there won’t be hundreds of policemen, firefighters and troops to drag the living and the dead out of the mud next time, because we’ve sacked them all.
But, as always, you will get a grim-faced Minister in their wellies and hi-vis jacket helicoptered in from London to visit the damage to spout some sort of positive message out of a tragedy they created! By then it will be far too little and far too late!