‘The largest and most challenging event we have faced since 1998’
- Credit: © Terry Harris
Recent flash flooding across the county has been “the largest and most challenging event... since Easter 1998,” say Middle Level Commissioners.
Homes across the region, including March, Wisbech and Doddington, were left under water on December 23 after hours of heavy rainfall.
A spokesperson for the Middle Level Commissioners said: “We wish to thank our workforce, the many Internal drainage boards and their staff and other partner organisations for working tirelessly over the Christmas period to manage the effects of the extreme rainfall event that has caused flooding in so many parts of East Anglia.
“On December 23, heavy rainfall started to fall on an already saturated catchment.
“The Middle Level is a complex catchment where water cannot escape by gravity and instead is controlled by careful management of a tiered pumping system with a significant proportion of the district being pumped in two or even three lifts to reach the River Great Ouse and hence the sea.
“To manage pumping operations teams of employees have worked day and night until the evening of December 27 when the night crew were for the first time stood down.
“There are nearly 80 IDB, (Internal Drainage Board) pumping stations plus a gravity catchment that feed the Middle Level system and all the water collected has to be evacuated by the Middle Level Commissioner’s large pumping station at St Germans, the largest in the UK.
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“Over the period this pumping station pumped up to a peak of 70 tonnes of water each second, equivalent to emptying two Olympic sized swimming pools a minute.
“The first pump started operating at St Germans at 3pm on December 23 and within two hours three pumps were running, with a fourth pump coming online by midnight on that day.
“At the time of writing four pumps remain in operation. Those four pumps have between them been discharging 50 to 70 tonnes of water per second, meaning that from midnight on December 23 until midnight on December 27 in excess of 20 billion litres of water was pumped and of course we won’t stop pumping until water levels within the system return to normal target winter levels.
“This has been the largest and most challenging event we have faced since the Easter 1998 event.”
On April 10 1998, the River Nene burst its banks after Northamptonshire received a month's worth of rain in just 24 hours.
According to BBC News, about 2,500 properties were flooded in Northampton alone and two people in the town died.
The spokesperson added: “Other than having crews out working day and night, things that mark this event out as different from the usual events we have to deal with each year are that for the first time in several decades we have had to call upon Woodwalton Fen reservoir which can store up to two billion litres of water.
“This reservoir is placed at the head of our system and has a pivotal role in ironing out the peak, allowing our second largest pumping station ‘Bevell’s Leam’ to cope with the flows feeding it.
“This station too has been operating more or less at full capacity over the period lifting 20 tonnes of water a second into the watercourse network that feeds St Germans.
“The second unusual feature of this event is that on two occasions some of the subsidiary pumping stations were stopped from pumping where only agricultural land was at risk.
“This again allowed flows to be balanced to protected houses from flooding.
“Data will be collected over the next few weeks as we analyse the event and our performance to ensure we learn as much as we can.
“But early indications are that from a Middle Level perspective all that could and should be done was done and that although some localised flooding of properties, not linked to our operations has sadly occurred, our actions saved many, many other properties from flooding which continues a long tradition of proactive management of flood risk in the area.”