Digging deeper


- Credit: Archant

What a difference a year makes. Toward the end of November 2012, like many in the country I was battling floodwaters after relentless rainstorms saturated the ground and overfilled our rivers.

Some of the pictures published in the Herald at that time show views of the Bulverton area struggling with the floodwaters and the main road impassable.

However, after the waters subsided a year-long saga unfolded – with many lessons learned and with valuable insights for many people that have suffered from flooding, and more generally property owners.

I had always struggled to understand why the main road through Bulverton would get so inundated by rainwater and why on occasion the road drains seem to stop working altogether. The events of November 2012 did one thing and that was to focus attention on the problem.

Local residents traced the route of the drainage pipes that take the surface water on its journey down the valley-side ultimately toward Woolbrook; sure enough, blockages were discovered and a timely emergency jetting operation launched by East Devon district and Devon county councils just before Christmas prevented further flooding during the rainstorm at the very end of 2012.

As 2013 got under way a number of surveys revealed an object lodged in drainage pipes under a garden some distance from the flood-affected area, and after some time, negotiation and a fair amount of digging what appeared to be an old railway sleeper was removed.

In further operations many tons of debris were also removed from under gardens ‘up flow’ from the main blockage.

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This all occurred in the vicinity of Sidmouth’s old railway line, with some of the debris being actually under the old embankment.

The sections of water-worn timber removed clearly looked as if they had been in the pipes for many years and due to their scale could only have got into the pipes during historic development of the area.

Many of these drainage pipes exist in areas such as Sidmouth. Over the years, as fields are developed into housing the small streams that flow down the hillsides into the brooks are piped and buried and often forgotten.

What has become apparent during the last year and what made the task of unblocking harder was that the ownership often lies unbeknown with the landowner, which understandably can prove to be a nasty shock.

I would say to anyone trying to tackle a similar problem that you have to be very persistent. With so many people affected by flooding you have to shout load to be heard.

But that said, I have to thank East Devon District Council and Devon County Council without whose help the progress made would not have been possible. As 2014 approaches the area’s surface water drainage has seen a transformation in capacity.

Some further improvements are still to be made, but the hard work put in by many of the area’s residents, together with contractors and local authorities, has started to pay off.

Geoffrey Roe

Bulverton House