ANGRY councillors have warned of ongoing flood risks if river maintenance policy is not changed.
After parts of Saltney narrowly avoided flooding during heavy rain before Christmas, councillors in the area said not enough work is being done to keep waterways unclogged for rain to pass through.
Saltney community councillor Derrick Beddow said: “We had a very close shave this time.”
He said: “A failure to remove huge amounts of silt built up in rivers over many years means the rivers cannot hold large amounts of water.”
Last month, the Leader reported farmers’ fears for severe flooding because of a lack of work to clear Balderton Brook, which runs from Cheshire through Saltney and is a main artery carrying rainwater to the River Dee.
Landowners and community leaders said they feared a repeat of the flooding seen in 2012, when the river burst its banks, leading to months with fields underwater.
Previously, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) said it had worked closely with farmers over the year and had completed 90 per cent of the flood prevention work agreed with them.
But Cllr Beddow said the work done had been very minor and ‘not enough’.
“They didn’t fix the flaps during the summer when the level was low,” he said.
“There are lots that are broken and now they’re covered in rubbish and weeds.”
“But it’s this non-dredging business causing the major problems.
“That’s why the rivers are so shallow. The River Dee hasn’t been dredged for 15 to 20 years.
“And you can’t get water into something that hasn’t got capacity.”
Fellow councillor Veronica Gay agreed that something needed to be done.
“We’ve got to be on alert during these periods of rainfall,” she said.
“The fact it was so high already makes me very concerned.
Cllr Gay said horses she had seen stranded in a field were a reminder of the grim scenes of flooding in 2012, when farmers had had to swim animals to safety.
“We want a proper maintenance programme,” Cllr Gay said.
“We need them to maintain it on a regular basis.
“And I mean the whole of Balderton Brook – so that when we get this sort of weather, the rain gets carried away.”
Flood Prevention Society chairman John Lloyd said the failure to dredge means rivers are clogged and cannot cope when the heavy rains come.
And Mr Lloyd, a former farmer from Dodleston, near Chester, said he believed 90 per cent of flooding was avoidable.
He said: “What I’m annoyed about is the media all over the country talking about the rivers bursting their banks when what’s actually happening is the water is flowing over the top of the banks.
“After the great floods of 2007, Sir Michael Pitt said if something wasn’t done about the state of the rivers, it would end up costing five per cent of GDP. That’s £78 billion pounds a year.
“The cost of dredging rivers is nothing compared to that.”
“The Dee is 50 per cent silted up.
“We never know when it’s going to rain and for how long and we need to be prepared.
“And the only way to be prepared is for the rivers to be dredged.”
Cllr Beddow said if something wasn’t done, the whole area along the River Dee from Shotton to Saltney and the west side of Chester was in danger.
“If a westerly or north westerly gale coincides with a high tide, it’s very risky,” he said.
“Because that’s when you get a surge. And that’s when it’s very vulnerable.”
A spokesperson from NRW said: “We carry out lots of work in and around rivers to reduce flood risk, much of which goes unnoticed but is essential to keeping our rivers running freely, free from obstruction and away from properties – keeping people safe.
“From maintenance of weirs, culverts and sluices, removing rubbish and leaves, and clearing blockages such as shrubs, weeds and even trees, we do everything we can to reduce the risk of flooding to people’s homes and businesses.
“Dredging is not always effective at reducing flooding, and it will not make rivers big enough to contain the huge volumes of water during a flood.
“During periods of flood, water will fill the river and enter the flood plain, which plays a vital role in protecting people’s properties from flooding.
“It is also a costly process, which would need repeating regularly, with little benefit to the area.
“We make decisions on the best way to tackle the risk on a case-by-case basis, using engineering knowledge and evidence of how each river responds to make sure we give best value to the taxpayer.”
In November, an NRW spokesman said: “The land in question is part of a natural flood plain which will inevitably flood during periods of heavy rainfall.
“However, we worked closely with local farmers over the last 12 months to address their concerns over flooding and completed over 90 per cent of the work we agreed with them.
“We also invested more than half-a-million pounds improving debris screen to keep channels clear so water can drain away quickly into the River Dee to reduce the risk.
“Protecting people and their homes from flooding is one of our key roles and this will always take priority.”