The Environment Agency is facing a furious backlash over its responses in flood-hit areas of the UK, as communities in England and Scotland have been warned to expect further flooding.
The organisation currently has 14 flood warnings in place, with most of them in the south-west of England. A further 137 flood alerts – meaning flooding is possible – have been issued across the country.
Heavy rain is expected to fall onto already saturated ground, prolonging floods in affected areas. Forecasters have also warned that dropping temperatures may mean untreated surfaces freeze, causing difficulties for transport.
Over the weekend, weather caused disruption across the UK, leaving around 1,000 homes without power.
Environment secretary Owen Paterson is currently visiting the Somerset Levels, where farmers have been hit particularly hard, with a “major incident” declared as large areas have been left under water.
Paterson told reporters that he was working on a plan that “would help prevent these floods over the next 20 years.”
On Sunday, farmers in Somerset held a demonstration against the Environment Agency, blaming them for failing to dredge local rivers, which they say could have prevented the flooding.
The Conservative MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, Ian Liddell-Grainger, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the Environment Agency’s efforts had been “pathetic”.
He added, “Once [the River Parrett] is dredged we can then maintain it but the Environment Agency has to stop this mucking around and get on with it.”
An environment agency spokesman said, “We’re doing everything we can to pump water off the Somerset Levels as quickly as river and tide levels allow.
“We have brought in extra manpower and pumping equipment from around the country and have 65 pumps working around the clock. This is the single largest pumping operation ever undertaken in Somerset.”
However, he also added, “Dredging is often not the best long term or economic solution and increased dredging of rivers on the Somerset Levels would not have prevented the recent widespread flooding.”
The Environment Agency, and Paterson in particular, have faced consistent criticism for their efforts to deal with the sustained weather conditions that have battered the UK since the Christmas period.
MPs and campaigners have questioned the wisdom of government enforced Environment Agency budget cuts, following the worst spate of flooding to hit the UK for decades.
In response, Paterson insisted that the current government was spending more on flood defences than any before it, but the government has since been forced to admit this is not the case.