Somerset Levels river dredging 'to start in March'
River dredging on the Somerset Levels will begin next month "as soon as it is safe and practical to do so", the Environment Agency has said.
The work will take place on five miles (8km) of river channel where the Tone and Parrett meet at Burrowbridge.
Dredging equipment will also be deployed on a 200m section of the River Parrett north of Coates Farm.
The agency said these are "key stretches" of waterway specifically identified by local people.
It claimed the proposal provides the greatest chance of reducing future flooding and is the "full dredge" requested by residents.'Crucial step forward'
The work is expected to start before the end of March, provided water levels drop and the land is dry enough to support the equipment required.
Floods Minister Dan Rogerson said: "Today marks a crucial step forwards in ensuring local communities around the Somerset Levels are better protected from the devastating impact of floods.
"We know those affected are tired and fed up but I can assure them we are working around the clock to clear the flood water so they can get on with their lives."
An official planning notice states the agency is proposing to dredge approximately two miles (3.5km) between Curload and Burrowbridge on the River Tone.
On the River Parrett, work will take place on a three-mile section (4.5km) between Burrowbridge and Andersea.
The scheme will involve the dredging of the channel and methods would include excavation from the bank.'Committed to dredging'
Paul Leinster, chief executive at the Environment Agency, said: "We plan to start dredging by the end of March, as long as the contractors deem it is safe to do so.
"We are committed to dredging as part of a broader package of work to protect people, property and land in Somerset."
Dredging is one of a range of actions to be set out in a 20-year plan commissioned by Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson and due to be presented in the coming weeks.
Bryony Sadler, from the Flooding on the Levels Action Group said the news was "the right step forward".
"It can only be positive, it is a great step forward and something we have been pushing for for such a long time...so anything positive is just a great step in our eyes," she said.
"It is just to make sure that whoever is doing it does a good job and to the standard that we all want. It can't just be pinch-point dredging, it can't be just take a little bit out, it has to be a good full dredge."