The Millennium Bridge curves gracefully over a wide expanse of water, gleaming as the low sun breaks through the clouds.  The river Ouse has overtopped its banks again but, thanks to the holding capacity of the riverside parks and flood meadows, York is not in danger of serious flooding.  Towns in West Yorkshire and Lancashire, where fast flowing rivers run in narrow valleys, are already coping with the difficulties of flooded roads and the miseries of flooded houses.  York is fortunate.

 

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Sited at the confluence of two rivers, York has historically been defended by water but also threatened by it.   The river Ouse is fed by numerous tributaries, carrying water down from the Yorkshire moors and dales, so river levels continue to rise for a day or more after the rain stops falling.

 

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Water is contained in the flooded grassland by natural slopes and artificial flood banks.  Where streets run close to the river, protection depends on solid walls and moveable flood gates.   York’s flood defences have been gradually improved over the centuries, with major developments in the late 1980s and recent additions, intended to give protection against river levels up to 5.45m above normal summer levels.  The level is expected to peak at around 5m on Monday, well within safe limits.  York’s floods look impressive but, for now, the city is open for business as usual.

Postscript on Sunday morning:  the river Ouse is still below the flood banks but problems with the pumps at the Foss barrier mean the river Foss has been flooding neighbouring streets overnight.  With many roads closed and homes in low lying areas evacuated, York’s not looking so fortunate now.

 

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