The York flood fiasco: Where did all the water come from?

Surrounded by the banks of the River Foss and the River Ouse, York is no stranger to flooding. The Kings Arms situated on the River Ouse is flooded yearly to different extents. The highest levels recorded at about 5.4metres in 2000 have been challenged this winter with a measure of 4.6metres on the 26th of December, that were expected to rise further.

However, this year the River Foss contributed most of the damage with dramatically more water streaming in from the Ouse, which exposed homes, businesses and streets that are normally unaffected. An investigation has been launched as to why the key, River Foss flood barrier was lifted and whether it was necessary. The Environmental Agency whom are responsible for controlling flood barriers and protecting cities from flooding claim that extremely high river levels caused water to enter the building threatening the pumping station with electrical failure. They suggest that electrical failure would cause more severe damage so in order to avoid this the barrier was lifted. Repair parts were delivered by military troops to reinstate the defence as quickly as possible.

Image: Carl Spencer

Image: Carl Spencer

York has 2.5 miles of flood defences constructed between 1985 and 1995. They are designed to withstand a 5.45meter rise above normal summer levels. Many question how and why this has not been maintained. The barrier is located where the River Foss flows into the River Ouse, it is lowered when Ouse levels rise in order to prevent overflow into the Foss.

The River Ouse drains a large upland area of northern England, much of the Dales and Moors. A long period of sustained heavy rainfall over these regions contribute to higher levels of the river in winter. However, one must consider the large extent of flooding this winter as an indication of abnormally high levels of rainfall, from Scotland to Leeds extreme weather warnings were put in place. Is this indicative of the possible effects of changing weather patterns due to a warmer winter?


  1. There absolutely needs to be an investigation into the raising of the Foss Barrier. But we also need to seriously modify how we are dealing with floods, including restoring more of the wetlands and bogs upstream, reintroducing the meanders in the river that were removed during “improvements” in the 1970s, plant more trees on riverbanks, and use SOME dredging (but relying on dredging only simply rushes the water further downstream so it becomes someone else’s problem). And quit building on floodplains. It WILL flood sometimes no matter what is done, so we have to build sensibly and be prepared to move people during extreme weather.

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  2. ummmm…. what she said

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