On Boxing Day 2015, many communities including those here in Calderdale, were overwhelmed by Storm Eva.
The prolonged period of heavy rainfall combined with 24 hours of extreme weather, brought devastation with 2,781 homes and 1,635 business flooded in parts of Halifax, Hebden Bridge, Todmorden, Mytholmroyd and Brighouse alone.
Extreme weather is only expected to increase in frequency and so we are forced to consider any and all ways in which we can mitigate its impact on people’s lives.
One way we can do that, is to think about the role of reservoirs in mitigating flood risk.
Whilst dialogue between the Government, the Environment Agency and Water Companies like Yorkshire Water is already underway, practical progress on this has been slow.
Over the winter of 2017/18, Yorkshire Water worked with the Environment Agency to pilot a scheme, where six reservoirs in the most ‘at-risk’ catchment area above Hebden Bridge, were managed down to 90% of their usual top storage level.
The water held in the top 10% of the reservoir was slowly released which then created the extra capacity to store the increased rainfall anticipated in the winter months.
The assessment of the pilot scheme was clear that it had had a positive impact on alleviating flood risk, and the extra capacity in the reservoirs meant more water could be held in the upper catchment, instead of overflowing into the valley below.
For the first time, the Environment agency was able to add reservoirs to their arsenal of options to help mitigate flood risk.
However, the speed bumps which have slowed down progress relate to the focus on mitigating drought risk in the legislation which underpins the role of water companies and the regulation of them by Ofwat. The same emphasis is not placed upon mitigating flood risk.
The 10 minute rule bill which I am presenting to the House of Commons today will seek to address this imbalance.
It will call on the Government to award new powers to the Environment Agency which would allow them to call on Water Companies to reduce the water levels in reservoirs where it has been predetermined this would have a beneficial impact on protecting communities from flooding.
Whilst this will only be an option in some areas, conversations and even pilot schemes are already underway at Thirlmere reservoir in Cumbria, Watergrove reservoir in Rochdale and reservoirs in the upper Don Valley which demonstrate a need to ensure that not only is the same value placed on this work as other areas of responsibility for Water companies, but that they are not penalised for it if it is deemed to be at odds with drought risk work.
Yorkshire Water are working with the Environment Agency to direct water released from the reservoirs, into their treatment works which is exactly the approach we would like to see.
This bill therefore calls on the Government to support Water Companies and the Environment Agency to both invest in the infrastructure to make that happen, and ensure that legislation and regulation of water companies understands efforts to mitigate flood risk, and encourages and supports them to the benefit of communities at risk of flooding, all over the country.