Butt-ressing the battle against Chard flooding

Chard residents are being urged to back a new phase of the drive to reduce historic local issues with flooding by joining a pilot project that could see more than 800 water butts handed out to homes in the Somerset town.

The butts, which are being provided free by Wessex Water, are the latest in a package of measures being trialled by the partnership of organisations that includes the water company, Somerset Council and the Somerset Rivers Authority, to reduce flood risk in the area and neighbouring parishes.

Targeted towards residents in certain parts of Chard, including the Crimchard and Glynswood areas, the authorities hope the installation of water butts can help to reduce the build-up of surface water in the town that has contributed heavily to previous incidents of flooding.

The pilot will see residents in the selected areas written to encouraging them to take up and install a free water butt to collect up to 200 litres of rainwater, holding it for reuse on gardens or other porous areas or for more gradual release during drier spells of weather.

As well as carefully monitoring the results from the project, Wessex Water will also offer advice to recipients on when to drain their water butt ahead of forecasted heavy rain.

Vicky Farwig, Wessex Water’s Flood Risk and Drainage Strategy Manager, said: "This pilot project is one of a whole series of measures to reduce flood risk in Chard – and it’s one in which we’re hoping residents can play a proactive part in helping towards protecting their town.

"When it rains heavily, that rainwater often drains directly into the sewer network, which can quickly become overwhelmed, leading to flooding and pollution problems for homes and businesses.

"Storing some of this in a water butt may seem like a small contribution but by embracing this challenge as a community, it can make a difference as we tackle these local issues.

"If 100 properties install a 200-litre water butt, that can store nearly 250 bathtubs of water, providing the extra storage that can reduce instances of flooding. This can be used to water plants or fill ponds from it, which can also save water and can reduce domestic bills."

Hundreds of Chard properties were hit by extreme flooding in 2021 as intense rainfall caused a surge in surface water that overwhelmed all drainage infrastructure in the town.

Since then, the authorities have worked together to identify and deliver the most effective ways to reduce flood risk, including better maintenance of highway gullies and culverted watercourses, the relining of sewers and the creation of areas to temporarily hold water away from the sewer system.

A flood warden network to identify and report issues has also been developed in conjunction with the Chard Action Resilience Group (CARG), which was set up with the aim of reducing the impact of flooding in the town.

Cllr Dixie Darch, Executive Lead Member for Environment and Climate Change at Somerset Council, said: "There is no single answer to reducing surface water flood risk in Chard, due to the lie of the land and layout of the town.

"Beyond this scheme, we’re continuing the partnership work with Wessex Water and Somerset Rivers Authority to come up with the actions that will add resilience to drainage networks in the town.

"These include enhanced maintenance, investigative work and a variety of further measures, which will need time to allow detailed design and delivery."

Cllr Mike Stanton, Chair of Somerset Rivers Authority, said: "I urge everyone who can to take part in this scheme. It’s easy and quick to sign up for it, and it’s targeted at parts of Chard where it will make a difference, if people work together.

"Winter’s on the way. The more prepared we all are for wetter weather, the more we can reduce the risks of flooding.”

He added: "Climate change means we’re going to get more and more flash flood events. And it’s wasteful to use clean and expensive mains water for garden irrigation. So although it sounds odd at first glance, this is a real way of reducing clean water usage. I have six water butts now in my own garden – and 15 trees.”

Wessex Water is writing to residents in the targeted areas to invite them to take up the free water butt offer, with up to two per household available. Deliveries of the 200-litre butts and installation information is scheduled to start in October.

The company is also developing designs and a programme of sewer capacity increases in the Glynswood and Furnham Road areas of the town before 2025 as a further way of reducing the frequency of sewer flooding.