Sunday 4 August 2019

Emergency at Toddbrook Reservoir, Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire

Updates at the end -

Recent rainfall has certainly been exceptionally intense and has threatened the dam wall at Toddbrook Reservoir at Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire.   A huge effort is taking place to try to prevent the wall collapsing including use of a Royal Air Force Chinook helicopter assisting with emergency efforts (pictured) - Metro News 3 August 2019.

Toddbrook Reservoir opened in 1838 and is located near the south-western part of the town with the dam wall facing the town.  The present situation is not the first at Toddbrook.  As shown in the following paper, heavy rain in 1964 also caused serious concern.  Remedial works
were carried out in the period 1965-1971.

Charles, J Andrew; Tedd, Paul; Warren, Alan. "Delivering Benefits Through Evidence Lessons from Historical Dam Incidents". Environment Agency. p. 140. Retrieved 1 August 2019.

The River Goyt flows close to the reservoir and then continues toward New Mills, Marple Bridge and onwards to join the Mersey at Stockport.  If the dam wall were to break then there would undoubtedly be risk to places along the course of the Goyt River.

In the light of the risk, most of the town of Whaley Bridge has been evacuated and roads through the town have been closed.  Certain other roads have suffered direct storm damage and have also been closed.  The authorities have implemented a "civil contingencies" plan with a view to protecting the community.

An announcement by Derbyshire Police on 2 August asked "residents to continue to heed police advice and stay away from Whaley Bridge and stated that further updates would be delivered.  An update of 2 August was concerned with access to properties.   This stated that - "Residents are now able to return home for a brief period of time.  One person from each property will be able to attend any of the road blocks into Whaley Bridge and speak to officers where they will be signed in and out.  Emergency contact details will be taken, along with the address that they will be attending. That person will be able to access the property and will be given 15 minutes to do so. That person should then exit via the same route they entered. Any residents that re-enter Whaley Bridge are advised that they will do so at their own risk and the risk to life remains high in the area."

See also the Police statement 3 August 2019 stating - "Some residents have had concern for the security of their properties. We would like to reassure residents and business owners that a staffed cordon around Whaley Bridge remains in place where officers are monitoring who goes in and out of the town."   The Police have announced that further properties are being evacuated in the Horwich End part of the town.

Reservoir Safety:

BBC News 3 August asked - How safe are Britain's dams?  The Science Media Centre offers some expert views about the situation and describes the statutory safety and maintenance regime applicable to the owners of reservoirs that are defined as ‘large raised reservoirs"

Reservoirs Act 1975, amended by the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 Schedule 4. 

Civil Protection:

The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 Part 1  was an overhaul of arrangements for local civil protection in the event of an emergency - (More detail in the Explanatory Notes to the Act).    Part 2 of the Act addresses "Emergency Powers."  Part 2 was considered on this blog in connection with the possibility that it might be invoked to cope with Brexit - post 19 February 2019.  The Act was also considered in posts on 14 April 2011 and 14 July 2017.   The Civil Contingencies Act Part 2 has not been invoked regarding the dam at Toddbrook.

Part 1 of the Act imposes a series of duties on local bodies in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (to be known as “Category 1 responders”). These duties include the duty to assess the risk of an emergency occurring and to maintain plans for the purposes of responding to an emergency. The range of Category 1 responders includes certain bodies with functions which relate to health, the Environment Agency and the Secretary of State, in so far as his functions relate to responding to maritime and coastal emergencies.

The Act also provides the mechanism to impose duties on other local bodies (to be known as “Category 2 responders”) to co-operate with, and to provide information to, Category 1 responders in connection with their civil protection duties.

Part 1 of the Act also enables a Minister of the Crown (or, for certain purposes in Scotland, the Scottish Ministers) to require a Category 1 responder to perform a function for the purposes of preventing an emergency, reducing, controlling or mitigating the effects of an emergency or taking other action in connection with an emergency.

See UK Government - Guidance - Preparation and planning for emergencies

Derbyshire High Peak - Emergency Planning and see Derbyshire Prepared

Government - Flood warnings

Update - Monday 5 August 2019:

BBC News 5 August reports that the water level in the reservoir has been reduced and that emergency work to stablise the dam wall has continued.

22 residents from 16 households have refused to leave their homes, prompting sharp criticism from police.  That number is down from 31 people in 22 homes, reported by police on Sunday. Police claim that lives are being put at risk because this.  Weather over the weekend was mainly warm and dry but with some rain showers over Sunday night.

BBC News 5 August - also reports that pumping water out of the dam is to continue until the volume is reduced to 25%.  That is likely to take until mid-week.

Update - Tuesday 6 August 2019:

Derbyshire Police - Latest updates on multi-agency effort to stabilise dam wall in Whaley Bridge - Derbyshire Constabulary, Deputy Chief Constable Rachel Swann, said: “The team at Whaley Bridge have made excellent progress over the last five days in ensuring that we quickly drain as much water as possible from the reservoir and work to reinforce the dam wall.

“That being said, the situation in Whaley Bridge still remains critical and there is still a significant threat to life to those in Whaley Bridge and the surrounding Goyt Valley area.

“Local residents were invited to attend a meeting last night at Chapel High School, in which I was able to directly address lots of questions about the incident at the reservoir. The minutes from the meeting and subsequent answers can be found on our website.

“One of the questions we have been asked frequently by the public and media outlets is around the number of residents who returned to their properties in Whaley Bridge during Friday and Saturday and then failed to present back at the road block at which they entered.

“The number of those who remain in Whaley Bridge now stands at 20 from 16 properties. We will repeatedly visit these people to remind them of the risks they are posing to themselves and emergency responders, however there is no specific legislation under which we can force these people to leave."

Update Wednesday 7 August 2019:

Residents permitted to return home - BBC News.  About 1,500 residents were removed from their homes on Thursday after the dam at Toddbrook Reservoir was damaged during heavy rain.
Emergency services worked to repair the dam wall and lower water to safe levels to allow people to return. Derbyshire Police said it had been an "unprecedented crisis".  But the immediate danger posed to Whaley Bridge and areas downstream in the Goyt Valley has now passed, according to the force.

See Derbyshire Police update.

Update 10 August 2019:

BBC News - Whaley Bridge dam: The people who saved a village

BBC News - Whaley Bridge: Grants available for flood-hit communities

Update 2 January 2023:

Review of the incident and recommendations - 

Professor David Balmforth, looked at:

  • what might have led to the damage
  • if it could have been prevented or predicted
  • identify any lessons learned

Professor Balmforth has made 22 recommendations for application across the reservoir network and community

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If it bursts it would release 1.3 million tonnes of water onto the Derbyshire town and many other villages along the River Goyt.

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