To face the risk of a one-in-a-100-year (a 1% chance in any year) flood event in Newbury, provisional new plans have been laid out for consultation and comment by the Environment Agency.
Proposals forming part of the response to the 2005 Kennet Flood Risk Management Strategy will be appraised and selected for submission as a business case in March 2011, but the final determination as to whether the project will proceed will be made on the basis of its priority by comparison to other flood alleviation schemes across the country. A public exhibition of the proposals will be held in Newbury in February 2010.
The initial intention is to protect around 370 residential and 80 commercial properties, but in urging people to sign up to the EA's updated flood warning alert service on 29 November 2010, local MP Richard Benyon (and the Coalition Minister with responsibility for flood alleviation) noted that “There are 2,525 properties at risk of fluvial flooding in the Newbury constituency". A more detailed map of the wider risk from Newbury down to Thatcham is available here.
In terms of the effects of any adopted plan on paddling on the start of the lower reach, there is probably little difference that would be noticed on a day to day basis. Most of the proposals appear to involve raising towpath levels slightly along the side of the Navigation, and building walls or embankments to protect specific areas of low lying housing or grassed park.
The section of the floodplain between the A34 and the disused Lambourn Valley railway (c.240m to the west of the boat launch slip at the edge of Northcroft recreation grounds) is proposed to provide a compensatory storage area around the Speen Moors Plantation,using the remaining embankment as a semi-permeable bund wall. Whilst water levels could be raised up to 2m in this 'holding' area during one-in 20-year flood event or higher risk periods, this would require a special structure that could be lowered into the River Kennet where it breaches the embankment [SU 459 671], and probable new embankment building to the south of this area to prevent bypassing re-entry of flood water to the Kennet & Avon Canal.
The stanchions in the river mark all that remains of where the Lambourn Valley Railway crossed the River Kennet west of Newbury.
This is not the most readily accessible area to undertake such works but should they proceed it would potentially bar the end of the riverine Kennet run down from Benham Weir (should you be considering exploring the new 'lake-scape' during such floods).
Just above the line of the old railway (note the flood plain beyond the river) is a riverwide bar, presumably intended to prevent navigation further upstream. In normal water levels you can paddle over it river right...
...in lower water levels you can squeeze under the bar river left. The proposed Newbury FAS might negate the need for this effort during periods of potential flooding.