Friday, February 14, 2014

An out of bank experience

And the Bafta nominee for shakiest camera work and worst soundtrack in the open air is...

“Floods II – broke bank fountain”

Featuring in appearance order:

The ditch that carries water away from the neighbouring village,

The River Dever at Bransbury

And a groundbreaking performance that trod new roads from a portion of The River Test

Strange days indeed, four months ago this river and the aquifers that feed it were at one of the lowest levels recorded, today sages predict that they will soon be at the highest ever recorded; from off the bottom of the gauge at Weston Colley to a substantial out of bank experience. Nothing on the scale of the Thames, Severn and Somerset Levels but this is a chalkstream and this is very unusual behaviour for groundwater fed rivers, strange days indeed (repeated for emphasis ed). After the floodwaters subside on flashier rivers the groundwater flow will mean that fields and roads in chalk valleys will remain flooded far longer.

Two days ago we made the Environment Agency’s excellent live flood map in red, and each evening we have received a recorded message reminding us of the danger of flooding and not to underestimate the power of the water. Here, we are some way off property being affected by flooding from the river channel, but ground water is rising at a remarkable rate. The borehole that supplies water to the Mill house and the house in which we live is bubbling like the Trevi fountain and is at a level almost equal to the level of the lowest room in the Mill House, as a result an extra pump has been fired up that hooks the exuberant ground water away to the river and we have been advised to boil all that we drink, althogh I draw the line at Mulled Wine, makes me liverish. In two to three weeks a bigger pump may be required as the ground water will keep on rising for quite some while yet. A drive up the Bourne, Upper Test and Dever reveals a plethora of private pumps at work shifting groundwater that threatens to cover the entire valley, and I have just returned from spending a few hours moving furniture to higher ground in a basement that has been invaded by groundwater.

Part of the previous two days has been spent chucking sandbags around in the neighbouring village. A series of houses were under threat from a spring ditch that was all but out of control, a sandbag berm was built and a pump put in place to shift water from the side of the houses, but waves from passing traffic breached the barrier and the benefit of fifteen minutes of pumping was cancelled in an instant.
The road was closed but still the traffic came, ignoring the road closed signs, the cars broken down on the side of the road being attended to by the AA and the several people waving their arms and pleading with them not to enter the hundred yard stretch of road that was underwater and rising to smash on through and send wave after wave surging up to stricken houses. It was a fairly depressing episode that also included a school bus driving over a road closed sign to deliver his load, a flatbed truck swerving midstream to put the wind up someone who was asking them to slow down and a white single deck coach from Andover whose driver was asked politely to find another way home with his empty vehicle but instead pressed on regardless, taking his hands from the steering wheel midstream to perform a hilarious mime of someone swimming underwater. His bow wave took the top line of sandbags off the barrier and another fifteen minutes of pumping had been carried out in vain.

He was really funny, it was a great mime of a person swimming and was just what was required at that particular moment and drew rave reviews, the best of which is listed below:


In what may have been a bungled effort to pick a day to bury bad news, all who manned the flood defence had that day received through the post compulsory notice from the water authorities that their properties were to be fitted with water meters to preserve a commodity which was becoming ever more precious.

"Hear hear!" said I

Which instigated a tense stand off between myself and several poised with buckets that were about to be thrown my way.

Over on the Itchen things have taken an unusual twist. In order to save Winchester from aquatic Armageddon, the M3 motorway was closed one evening and over a hundred one tonne sacks of sand and gravel lowered into the main river at the point that it shoots through the substantial culvert below the UK’s highway number 3. It’s the weir that Wickes built and the idea is to flood the land upstream in order to gain Winchester some breathing space particularly in the coming few days when several inches of rain is forecast. Innovative thinking from the folk at flood defence and by accident rather than design, but where we saw a motorway crossing a valley they saw dam potential. Models predict (and Cindy Crawford is rarely wrong in these matters) that three hundred acres of water meadow will be flooded to a depth of four feet, the chap who lives by the main bridge in Easton will have the willies but if it sees Winchester through the next rough week of weather, well done the blokes at the EA.

What if there were a set of hatches in place under the M3 to carry out this kind of operation and negate the need for a sponsorship deal with Wickes?

Oh yes, impounded streams and all that, best rip the hatches and sluices out then.

While I will readily knock the EA and their cohorts at the planning level, in the field over the past few weeks they deserve more than some of the stick that has been thrown their way. A media savvy bunch with twitter feeds and YouTube posts from each team in the field they are equipped with all the gear and energy to make a difference but have been let down by leadership, planning and budget. Follow a few on the internet to find out what they have had to put up with this past week. The local council have been very good with their sandbank distribution and troop movements up and down the A303 are comforting along with the huge pumps that we saw pass en route from Holland to the Somerset Levels.

Further down the river Romsey’s World of Water (a tropical and freshwater fish emporia) reached nirvana as the nearby river flowed through their premises. Inspired by “Free Willy” several substantial sturgeon have fled into the neighbouring river Test. We have seen sturgeon feed on the surface, swimming upside down to take floating baits with their under slung mouths in a French lake so there could be some fun to be had at Mayfly time on the lower Test.

I was kindly contacted by a chap asking what I thought of Richard Benyon’s suggestion to allow flooding in the headwaters of the Kennet in order to delay its discharge into the Thames. I may be wrong, and could quite possibly have dreamt this one but a hundred years ago didn’t a system of hatches, ditches and carrier streams exist in most chalkstreams to push water around the floodplain, giving man control over a river system which allowed retention or release of water. The meadows would be flooded as a matter of course to encourage an early flush of grass for grazing. Marry that knowledge of how water meadows work with today’s enlightened times on habitat and its management and we may just be walking the right road.

Don’t rip the hatches out but learn how to use them, understand what is and isn’t achievable with each set of sluices and return to some sensible channel management.

Apologies for the garbled nature of this post, fairly frantic times.

Traffic News: Just heard that A303 dual carriage way, the Great Western road to some , the North/South divide to others, has been closed fifteen miles est of here due to flooding. If you were planning on a camping trip to Cornwall this weekend you will need to find another route.

And now this has just happened. The perfect prelude to Valentine's day l'amore

A chuffin tree falling on the back of your home!


Nigel Ajax-Lewis said...

Great Chris,

Having been born and bought in Easton and gone to Sparsholt on the first Gamekeeping and Waterkeeping course in 1973 I have always enjoyed your "news from home".

Haven't been to Bransbury since the keeper had a pair of labs called spinner and dun. Although I enjoyed your comment about a past Test waterkeeper with an eye for fine furniture making, who I thought might have been called Kim.

If you have not looked, check out the British Geological Surveys website and their groundwater monitoring.

You may have to play cricket on a lilo this coming season.

I live and work in South Wales now so only coastal flooding and erosion are the problems at the moment.


Test Valley River Keeper said...

Thanks for the email and for reading the rubbish that I write.

Would the keeper in Bransbury have been Mike French, Ted Clear, or somebody called Mr Powis whose son Nigel continues to keeper on the estate downstream from here?

Kim Debenham was the headkeeper at Leckford when I carried out my year pre-college work experience on the estate in 1986. The clever keeper I referred to was David Fakes, more commonly known as "young David" his Dad "Old David" was also a riverkeeper on the estate along with his brother Jack who would both have been working in 1973, when young David may have been working at the Houghton Club. Young David retired a few years ago but still builds fancy fishing huts and bridges on the estate.

Old David grew his own tobacco and was partial to the odd moorhen for dinner, he lived to a great age and would often be seen in a pub in the valley with one of his sons as designated driver.

In 2001 we had groundwater running down the roads well into April, I reckon this year will be the same if not worse.

Thanks for the tip about the British osurvey

Nigel Ajax-Lewis said...

I will check the Bransbury keeper's name soonish as I will be staying with the ex Sparsholt student who was living in a line of cottages next to a splendid polish herdsman in a fortnight's time. The keeper lived in a detached cottage one end but I cannot remember his name.

I think our course was centred on Leckford and Two Lakes for waterkeeping, 41 years down track my memory of it is somewhat limited. So weekly days out with Kim and his colleagues getting Malachite Green on everything in season. I don't remember the Fakes family but that just might be me.

I immediately thought of Kim because he always seemed to have an eye for the main chance and ran a wonderful almost theatrical big fishing experience with Alex Behrendt for retired Admirals. I enjoyed myself hugely.

We also used to get carted off special visits demonstrate things including an attempt to show how to control pike with a 4 bore at Broadlands.

Thank you for bothering to read my rubbish