How Derbyshire town's new flood defences helped keep Storm Christoph at bay
Environment Agency (EA) teams say their ‘prepare for the worst and hope for the best strategy’ in Matlock has helped save the town from serious flooding so far this winter.
Over the past 15 months – since November 7, 2019, when a month’s worth of rain fell over the upper Derwent catchment area and police declared a major incident – the agency has been shoring up Matlock’s flood defences.
But the agency, and community leaders, say more joined-up thinking is needed to fix Matlock’s drainage system and prevent it becoming known as a ‘flood town’.
Paul Reeves, from the EA’s Derbyshire Flood Recovery Cell, says water levels in Hall Leys Park, alongside the Derwent, would have reached as high as his waist on that fateful day in 2019.
He admits there was an element of good fortune to prevent it happening again when Storm Christoph swept across Derbyshire last month.
"We were lucky in so far as there was not as much rain falling on the catchment area as there could have been,” he said.
"Plenty of forewarning also helped and we were able to work with Severn Trent to reduce the surge of water through them releasing water from Ladybower Reservoir.
"With Storm Christoph, the water was lapping the top of the banks on the Derwent, whereas in November 2019 it was two to three feet higher.”
Much of Matlock’s flood defence is made up of the town’s existing infrastructure of walls and buildings, some owned by the EA but most privately owned.
Many of the walls needed work repointing and resealing in the aftermath of November 2019.
"It does make Matlock slightly unique but you see similar things in other old towns and cities, such as York, where the buildings themselves form part of the defence.”
After the initial clean-up, the EA’s primary tasks were to investigate what had happened and help communities recover.
This included a technical survey to establish whether Matlock needs more government money for its flood defence – but Paul admits this has been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.
"The Environment Agency has been affected by the pandemic like everything else,” he said.
"We have carried on as usual with flood response work, but a lot of routine work has been affected with people off work shielding or self-isolating.”
Matlock’s response to Storm Christoph was helped by dedicated flood defence wardens, including Steve Wain, who is also a town and district councillor.
"We were definitely more prepared than in 2019,” he said. “Before the storm hit we were able to get round businesses to help them clear cellars and put down sand bags.
"But even so there were still some scary moments. At 6am on the Thursday morning after the storm, the water was physically bubbling up through the drains.
"The water was six inches from the front door of some businesses, and if we’d had any more rain they would have been affected.”
Steve says it is important that after the pandemic Matlock bounces back and does not become known as a ‘flood town’.
"The Matlock community needs help from the authorities to improve its infrastructure,” he said.
"We need thriving businesses and help to make it a place people want to visit. We must not become known simply as a flood town.”