On Sunday morning we looked out from our York garden over a large lake, punctuated by the trunks of willow trees and young ash saplings. A kayaker paddled silently past on the sunlit water, while I was fetching my camera.
In a dry summer, adventurous children can jump across the beck (or stream) which flows through this informal, public open space. By Sunday morning the water was about six feet above the top of the stream banks. This is flood land, which is why it’s never been built on. The low lying field can hold a large volume of water, without affecting roads or property.
The beck is a tributary of the river Foss, which in turn is a tributary of the Yorkshire Ouse. A flood prevention barrier allows water to be pumped from the Foss into the Ouse, even when the level of the larger river is higher. When everything’s working to plan, the level of the Foss can be controlled to use the holding capacity of fields like this one, without the flood water threatening surrounding streets.
On Saturday night the pumps at the Foss barrier stopped working, due to water reaching the level of the power supply. The decision was taken to open the barrier, to avoid the possibility of a failure in the closed position, leading to more serious problems. (I’m sure that decision will be much reviewed and debated). The result was that the water in lower reaches of the Foss rose to the level of the water in the (better protected) Ouse, causing the ‘nightmare flooding’ reported in the press.
This ‘lake’ flooded the streets at either end and threatened a few, low lying houses. Closer to the confluence of the rivers, the Foss and its tributaries flooded 500 homes. If the rain had continued for a few more hours, it could have been a lot worse.
The water is going down now and the clean up has begun but there’s more rain forecast ahead. For many households the nightmare may not be over yet.