Environment Agency team battles to prevent Derbyshire flooding again

The man on a mission to help Derbyshire recover from devastating floods is fighting two ongoing battles.

Wednesday, 15th January 2020, 5:00 pm
Updated Friday, 17th January 2020, 11:06 am

Paul Reeves’ first problem is, unsurprisingly, rain. As water continues to fall on the county’s sodden ground, there is no let-up for Paul and his team from the Environment Agency (EA).

The second battle is a tide of misinformation - both about the cause of the floods last November and the reaction from the authorities.

“Everywhere in Derbyshire is extremely saturated,” Paul, from the EA’s Derbyshire Flood Recovery Cell, says. “So even modest rainfall is going to cause river levels to rise rapidly and put us back in flood alerts.

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Paul Reeves by the River Derwent in Matlock.

“But it is also my job to investigate exactly what happened and what caused the flooding. In Matlock, contrary to what many people believe, the level of the River Derwent did not reach the level of the flood defences.

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“So we have been looking at other possible causes and whether the drainage system is fit for purpose.”

Paul says he was also surprised at the level of misinformation about the floods, particularly claims on social media about floodgates being raised at Ladybower Reservoir and causing floods in the Derwent valley.

Trees and debris trapped under the Peak Rail Bridge at Matlock which have now been cleared.

“Accusations that Severn Trent suddenly drained the reservoir were completely untrue,” he said. “These rumours are unhelpful and make our job more difficult.”

On November 7, 2019, a month’s worth of rain fell over the upper Derwent catchment area and police declared a major incident the following day.

A total of 94 flood warnings were issued across the East Midlands and high-profile visits by Prime Minister Boris Johnson followed.

Bales in the Derwent at Mason Mill.

After the initial clean-up, the EA’s primary tasks were to investigate what had happened and help communities recover.

Paul was given the key role within the flood recovery cell and has spent the last two months analysing the situation in Matlock and elsewhere.

“Matlock’s flood defences are made up of walls and buildings, some of which are owned by the EA and others which are privately owned.

“Many of the walls needed work repointing and resealing. We will also be carrying out a technical survey to establish whether Matlock needs more government money for its flood defence.”

Another important job for Paul and his team has been clearing the Derwent of debris, which includes around 500 huge bales of animal feed which now litter the river between Matlock and Belper.

Key to preventing flooding in Matlock is the pumping station on Bentley Brook, as the stream flows into the Derwent, which protects Matlock Green and is described by Paul as ‘vital’.

He says other rivers and streams in the county are particularly likely to flood. These include the River Amber at Ambergate, which also saw severe flooding last November, and Bottle Brook at Denby which can quickly and frequently top its banks.

“We just have to hope there are no prolonged periods of heavy rainfall,” Paul said.

“In November’s flooding the Derwent was badly affected, but fortunately the River Wye was not as high. If both are affected at the same time it would be a perfect storm situation.

“The Environment Agency hasn’t gone away. We are still here working hard to prevent this happening again.”

People can check their flood risk, sign up for free flood warnings and keep up to date with the latest situation at gov.uk, call Floodline on 0345 988 1188 or follow @EnvAgencyMids or @PaulReevesEA on Twitter.