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The Foss Barrier at York -
yet another flood defence failure?
(The Foss Barrier is part of the River Foss
flood alleviation scheme)
Error of judgement, incompetence or negligence?
The Environment Agency has some serious explaining to
The EA actually opened an expensive (award winning) flood
defence asset knowing that they were going to flood many properties that should
have been defended.
So here are some preliminary questions..............
Was the design of the River Foss
flood alleviation scheme fit for purpose?
Had the asset been properly maintained?
Was the operating procedure up to date?
When was the asset last inspected and tested?
Was the asset in need of maintenance and/or improvement?
What was the actual comparative behaviour of the two adjacent
channels in terms of stage and discharge over time?
How accurate and up-to-date was the hydraulic modelling?
What precisely was the problem with the electrical
When was the problem first identified and by whom?
Had this problem been identified as a risk?
Was there a flood plan
When was the problem brought to the attention of Silver/Gold Command?
Was there a contingency plan?
What about back-up
Foss flood barrier be raised manually?
Did the gate have to be opened at the time that it was?
Who made the decision to open the gate at that particular time?
Who was consulted prior to the opening?
Which gauges supply the information used to control the Foss
Barrier gate operation?
Why did the gauge outputs to the river level hydrographs on the
web site fail?
Will the EA identify the responsible individuals?
If negligence is proved, will those responsible be prosecuted?
Now that the Foss Barrier has failed - how many similar flood
defence assets contain similar shortcomings?
..........How are they going to wriggle
out of this one? The Environment Agency relies on fillibustering and
diversion of responsibility (it is always somebody else's fault) while waiting
for the problem to disappear over time.
I do not have a complete package of
information but the area of interest (on the hydrograph below) includes the 24 hours
prior to the gate being opened.
River Ouse at the Foss Barrier - 09.00 on
- Station name: Foss Barrier
- Site id: 8081
- Watercourse: River Ouse
- Site datum: 0 m AOD
- Site opened: Mar 1996
Last updated 09:00 on 27/12/2015
The river level at Foss Barrier is 4.80 metres.
This measurement was recorded at 09:00 on 27/12/2015.
The typical river level range for this location is between 5.05 metres and 7.90 metres.
The highest river level recorded at this location is 10.20 metres and the river level reached 9.95 metres on 27/09/2012.
Below is the
updated data from the
Last 48 hours of available
The source of the Foss Barrier
river levels can be found here
Below is a
previous report on the Foss Barrier
The York Press and dated December 2012 ..................
It's York’s biggest “garage door” – and it’s set to save Christmas for
thousands of York homes and businesses. It’s the Foss Barrier, on which work
started 25 years ago. Mike Laycock reports
AT 9.30pm on Thursday evening, Paul Maw keyed in a password to a computer
and a 16.5 tonne barrier slowly slid down like a giant garage door to block
the River Foss at its confluence with the River Ouse.
Then a series of mighty pumps began pumping water out of the Foss into the
Ouse at the rate of up to 30 tonnes of water per second.
For the sixth time in this wettest of years, the Foss Barrier and pumping
station had swung into action, prompted by the Ouse’s rise to more than 2.8
metres above normal summer levels.
With more heavy rain predicted today and in coming days, the Environment
Agency’s complex looks set to prevent Christmas being ruined for hundreds –
maybe thousands – of households by the misery and devastation of flooding
from the River Foss, Tang Hall Beck and Osbaldwick Beck.
Paul, a barrier operator, says that until the barrier was built in the late
1980s, more properties in York used to be flooded by the Foss and the two
becks than by the Ouse. The problem was that floodwater from the Ouse used
to surge up the already-swollen Foss and becks, causing them to overtop
The £3.34 million barrier project, which started in 1987, is an engineering
marvel which has solved that problem time and again, most dramatically in
November 2000 when the Ouse reached its highest levels in centuries and the
pumps had to run for ten consecutive days. It was again of vital importance
in September this year, when river levels were only half a metre lower and
the pumps ran for almost a week. Colin Atkinson, a senior emergency planning
advisor for the agency, says the pumping station would still work even if
the area was hit by a massive power cut.
Two huge diesel-powered generators
at the heart of the complex can create enough electricity to power four of
the eight pumps.
Paul stresses that while the pumps’ capacity is huge, the
extra water pumped into the Ouse is still only a fraction of the total flow
of 300 tonnes a second, and therefore cause Ouse floodwaters only to rise by
a centimetre or so.
When the pumps are operating, someone must be on site at
all times, and so Paul and agency colleagues, including
Richard Boaz and Ian Westmoreland, are now resigned to
coming in on an emergency rota over the Christmas period
to help keep York flood-free.
The source document can be found here
In a letter to York Press dated 7 January 2016 the
following question was asked ............
Can the Foss flood barrier be raised manually?
THE article “EA gives fullest
account yet” (The Press, January 7)
details the immediate reason for
opening the Foss Barrier, i.e. a
choice of evils between what
actually happened, and possibly
worse if the electrics failed and
the barrier couldn’t be raised.
However, there is something not
mentioned in Mr Kirman’s account.
There was a report by the then
National Rivers Authority around ten
years ago which described the
barrier as being designed with
several redundancies: “In the event
of failure of both mains and standby
power the gate can be wound by hand
through the gearbox.
“In the unlikely event of gearbox
seizure, chain blocks are provided
which could be used to raise or
lower the gate independently of the
normal drive arrangement.”
Are these two manual raising
methods still supposed to be
If they are available, are they
regularly tested, and why weren’t
they taken into account?
If no longer available, why not?
Michael Cadoux, Horseman
Barrier Design (River Foss flood alleviation scheme)
My thanks to Lisa at York Stories
who located and
published a link to
the EA Grey Literature web site which reveals a further link to the
National Rivers Authority River Foss flood alleviation scheme design
The following two links give direct access to the NRA document (20 pages
including maps, drawings and photographs)
Below is an extract from York Press
by Victoria Prest, Political reporter dated 16/1 2016
Officials face public wrath at floods meeting on Friday 15th January 2016
A FRACTIOUS public meeting on Friday
night saw residents in York try to question public officials over the causes
and responses to the Boxing Day floods.
The meeting - which wound up just after
8pm - was organised by the City of York Council to give people chance to
speak to their staff, the Environment Agency (EA), BT and others, but it was
at times bad tempered and chaotic with people angry they weren’t warned
sooner, or were left without any help from the council or emergency
The EA’s Mark Scott started his
presentation by apologising to people who had had their homes filled with
cold and dirty flood water over the Christmas period.
But several people asked why they were
not warned sooner, with one woman saying the seven hour gap between the
alarm being raised, and her hearing of the risk could have meant she had
“more than six cardboard boxes of belongings” left.
Jim Breen, the council’s emergency
planning boss, said: “It is true to say there is
no specific plan in place for flooding on the Foss. For 30 years we have
relied on the Foss Barrier and for 30 years it has worked.”
He went on to say that when the Foss
barrier did fail the inundation was so fast that the council did not have
time to put any other emergency flood defences in place.
Meanwhile, city police superintendent
Phil Cain outlined problems – in York and in West Yorkshire – which at times
left the force without the non emergency 101 number, without radio
communications, and relying on a back-up system to take 999 calls. The
ambulance service also lost radio systems, he added.
Later in the meeting, Mr Scott said
with the £10 million pledged by the Government for improvements, and with
technological improvements since the pumps were put in 30 years ago, they
hoped to up the capacity of the barrier pumping station.
He went on to say they needed to start
looking at managing water in the whole catchment area, rather than relying
entirely on the Foss barrier. A plan should be ready and published within
two months, he added.
At the end of the meeting both York MPs
Rachael Maskell and Julian Sturdy pledged to help anyone who was having
trouble with insurance companies, or the clean-up.
It closed with council leader Chris
Steward saying the situation was undoubtedly “hellish” for people who had
lost their homes to flood waters; and setting out plans for a full public
inquiry that will take “months not days”.
Source document (and many comments)
Comment via York Press
From Badgers Drift 11:16am Mon 18
It's not good enough to try and fob
people off with PR spin events, insincere offers of sympathy, and endless
waffle about how much the authorities did do right - it's patronising and
People are not stupid. The explanations and excuses from the EA have been
conflicting and unconvincing. Engineers have blown holes is the odd looking
data, the decisions taken on allegedly sacrificing homes to save more from
flooding, and how the power/pump/seals failed?
It smacks of a cover-up for ineptitude and mismanagement, and politicians
and public servants need to come clean and not dig themselves into a
deepening chasm of dishonesty!
Letter to York Press
LETTER from Matthew Laverack, Lord
Mayors Walk, York - January 2015
Environment Agency struggling to convince 600 flood-hit York households
ENVIRONMENT Agency bosses cling to
their claim they “saved” 1,000 properties by opening the flood barrier.
Their argument is that with the barrier in place and no pumps operating,
there would effectively have been a dam across the Foss causing a huge
back-up of Foss water. But those 600 who were sacrificed are not convinced
this action was warranted or unavoidable. Isn’t it the responsibility of
flood control managers to have contingency plans in place to quickly obtain
back-up pumps if urgently needed? And is it also not incumbent upon them to
periodically test and practice a manual lifting of the flood gate in the
event of power failure? All of these prudent actions were seemingly ignored
in the ever-changing excuses and statements put out by the EA.Many people
are convinced this was not a failure of the installation itself but a
failure of people paid to ensure it works correctly at the most critical
Letter to York Press - 26 January 2016
SPECULATION about the cause of the Foss barrier failure may be premature,
but asserting that the Environment Agency’s management failed – a “people
failure” – is different. The Foss barrier’s design and specifications
belonged to the NRA, which pre-dated the EA, but the writing has been on its
wall certainly since the greater 2000 flood. What modifications did
the EA consider vital in the intervening 15 years? If claiming that
Treasury-imposed cuts were causal, that accounts for half those years ...
but is there evidence that EA’s management protested? Or merely kept
their heads down: complicit in Treasury cutbacks, in the interests of the
Chancellor’s austerity politics? While hypocritically commending
increased Treasury funding in the current six-year plan … after 25 per cent
to 28 per cent cuts. An informed engineer with significant hydrological
experience has developed the engineering failure arguments succinctly, also
explained the difficulty in validation, while the EA exclusively controls
access to the required data.
makes the need to hold the EA to account indisputable, but both management
and macro-political stories need to be weighed, not ignored.
Wilkinsons Court, Easingwold