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Did Climate Change Damage The Whaley Bridge Dam?

August 3, 2019

By Paul Homewood


An RAF helicopter drops sandbags into the crack in the dam this afternoon

The situation at the Toddbrook Reservoir above Whaley Bridge is still highly dangerous, although fire crews have begun to drain the dam.

The dam wall was damaged when heavy rainfalls led to water overtopping the wall.

Inevitably though, creeps are already coming out of the woodwork to blame climate change, but there is no evidence that the rainfall was unusually extreme.

According to Huff Post, parts of the North West had seen 40mm to 50mm of rain in about 24 hours, with 52.2mm recorded between 11am on Saturday and 11am on Sunday at Greenfield near Oldham.

This has, of course, been widely labelled as half a month’s rain, as if this was somehow a biblical event. But 2 inches of rain in a day is not an unusual event, particularly over the Pennines, which naturally attracts greater rainfall.

The figures tally with the Environment Agency’s totals for the week:



Far larger rainfall amounts have occurred in the past over much shorter periods of time, and all many years in the past:



Flash floods have been ever present in Pennine valleys. Holmfirth, just a couple of hills north of Whaley Bridge and on the Yorkshire side, suffered a catastrophic breach of the Bilberry Dam in 1852, causing 81 deaths.

And just days before D Day, another cloudburst caused more deadly flooding, though that time the dam helped to stem the worst.

Below is the relevant page from British Rainfall for that year. The Holmfirth flood happened on May 29th, and you can see the rainfall amounts on that day at Hayfield (which is very close to Whaley Bridge) and Woodhead, a few miles to the south of Holmfirth.

At Hayfield, 2.55 inches fell in 73 minutes!



It is worth noting that those storms occurred on the same day that 91F in London.

According to the Telegraph:

Professor Roderick Smith, from Imperial College London, said: "Extreme weather events mean that there is increasing unease about the safety of older dams: particularly the need to release excess water safely and easily."

The reservoir was damaged due to flooding in 1964, according to the Environment Agency, but another specialist said it was "unlikely" it had been in an unsafe condition before the heavy rainfall on Thursday.

Professor Tim Broyd, Professor of Built Environment Foresight at University College London, said: "Dams are highly regulated structures, which includes regular structural inspections by highly qualified engineers.

"It is unlikely therefore that the dam was in a previously unsafe condition.

"What may have been the cause, however, is that the flow rate into the reservoir was exceptionally high, as a result of extreme local rainflows."


This really is quite disgraceful. All of our dams should be able to withstand the amounts of rainfall that fell this week, and indeed much, much more. Any civil engineering infrastructure should be designed and maintained to cope with not only foreseeable events, but also the worst possibly imaginable.

If supposed experts are suggesting that there was nothing wrong with a dam, which is falling to pieces after a perfectly normal weather event, they should not be doing the job they are in. Such complacency should not be tolerated where people’s lives are at stake.


And the first one to go should be this cretin, who incredibly is in charge of the Environment Agency:


  1. Ian Magness permalink
    August 3, 2019 11:21 am

    The BBC wheeled out a retired dam engineer yesterday. To their dismay he simply stated that this dam was one of quite a number in Britain built in the nineteenth century (many nearer 200 years old than 100) and to standards way below those that would apply today. Not least, the bulk of the dam structure is relatively soft and un-compacted sediment that is extremely unstable if the thin surface armouring of concrete is breached, as in this case.
    By far the biggest issue, therefore, is ancient, decaying and poorly-built infrastructure – not heavy but perfectly normal rainfall.
    Suffice it to say that this engineer’s interview is not being shown repeatedly by the BBC, unlike interviews with climate catastrophists who have put another layer on the emperor’s new clothes.
    By the way, in similar fashion to building on flood plains and moving estuary sediments, does anyone else share my disbelief that there is a town built just below an antique dam?

    • Chris Martin permalink
      August 3, 2019 11:44 am

      Agreed. If you live in the North of England there are literally hundreds if not thousands of these old dams and reservoirs. Every canal, lots of individual factories, every town (even small towns) at one time built reservoirs and dams and they are all over the place throughout the Pennines and beyond – the OS maps are sprinkled with them. Given that many were built with earth and many are now approaching 200 years old or more it is not surprising that we should see some failures at some point.

    • Bill Berry permalink
      August 3, 2019 12:07 pm

      Yes. It invoked pictures of Aberfan from the ’60s

    • CheshireRed permalink
      August 3, 2019 12:08 pm

      I’m gonna guess the town was there long before they decided to put a reservoir above it.

    • Adrian permalink
      August 3, 2019 1:34 pm

      If anyone want’s a larf I think they ought to foi British Waterways and ask for engineers reports on the dam over the last few years. I suspect it has simply not been maintained. If the mortar in this sort of spillway is in poor nick it will simply erode and wash out the underlying material.

      Oh there’s me being daft again – it was climate change.

      Interestingly climate change has broken a window in my shed. I mean sure ok I could be honest and wonder if it had anything to do with me banging it with a chainsaw at that moment but that would make me to blame – naaa.

  2. Bloke down the pub permalink
    August 3, 2019 11:23 am

    It would be interesting to know if the people in charge of the reservoir had been under pressure to maintain water levels as high as possible. Fear of drought, caused by climate change obviously, may be the root cause of why the damage occurred.

    • Pancho Plail permalink
      August 3, 2019 12:04 pm

      I thought we had been promised increasing droughts due to global warming. Where are the droughts when you need one?

  3. cjw1954 permalink
    August 3, 2019 11:26 am

    This man is a disgrace. Just shows how deeply embedded the Green Blob is in the bureaucracy and quangocracy. It’s a real life Quatermass conspiracy – the other side of the EU-loving one. Both disenfranchise and ultimately enslave the citizen.
    Whaley Bridge is no surprise given the shameful way we are “led” or “governed”. Most initiatives appear to be a sham. Most departments go through the motions. Everything is done to keep us quiet and complacent – just give them taxes and fight their wars. Then came 2016. The cost of the climate scam will only reinforce the desire for a reckoning.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      August 3, 2019 12:30 pm

      Bevan never talks about Climate Change – he only refers to it as ‘Climate Emergency’. He really likes to be on-message.

      • dennisambler permalink
        August 4, 2019 9:21 am

        If the weather we are seeing has happened before, I am puzzled how it can even be called climate change. It’s the weather.

  4. roobeedoo2 permalink
    August 3, 2019 11:36 am

    • Ian Magness permalink
      August 3, 2019 11:51 am

      Aside from the nonsense at the very end, what a sensible and informative report. Why can’t the combined multi-£bn resources of the BBC produce this sort of article instead of haranguing us endlessly with its narrative indoctrination?

      • Gerry, England permalink
        August 3, 2019 2:45 pm

        It has its pension fund investments in green crap to protect.

  5. Chris Martin permalink
    August 3, 2019 11:36 am

    It does really leave one in despair the sheer ignorance of all this. Are the media and agencies – and the Environment Agency chief you quote – just plain stupid, or are they doing this deliberately? The founders of that great British institution, British Rainfall, originally a voluntary body until subsumed into the Met Office after World War One would be spinning in their graves. The founder of that organisation, George Symons, spent years in the latter part of the 19th Century to persuade people that a rainfall gauge had to have a minimum capacity of 4 inches of rain (100mm) because a DAILY fall of that magnitude could be expected anywhere in the country. As he said in 1875 “We have repeatedly stated that there is no part of the British Isles where four inches in twenty-four hours will not occasionally fall” And in that one year he noted that five observers’ gauges had overflowed because a daily fall had exceeded that figure. And if one reads the annual volumes of British Rainfall from 1861 onwards you will see all the heavy rainfall totals catalogued and every year there were DAILY falls that totalled 10% or more of the ANNUAL total – sometimes in some localities a single day could bring 15% of the total rain in a whole year. As to flooding in the Greater Manchester area the scale of floods that we have seen is absolutely nothing – In 1866 a flood on the Irwell caused £1 million of damage and 700 people were rescued from wrecked homes.

  6. August 3, 2019 11:46 am

    Reblogged this on Climate- Science.

  7. john cooknell permalink
    August 3, 2019 11:58 am

    This is a canal reservoir built to hold water to operate the locks, it is specifically placed to hold water above the highest level of the canal.

    My observation is that all Canal Trust infrastructure has been starved of investment for renewal for years. To operate the canal system as orginally intended you need lots of people on the ground, lock keepers etc. to open sluices and control water levels etc, these people do not exist.

    Canals do not follow natural catchments and often transfer water from one natural catchment to another, and often this is the cause of flooding. My home town has suffered from this several times.

    The spillway is not an original structure, it is made of concrete and the design looks totally inadequate for its job.

    The civil engineering professionals who inspect the Dam would have no idea what operational systems should be deployed or what the design criteria might be, their reports will be caveated as all such reports are.

    • TomO permalink
      August 3, 2019 7:00 pm

      CaRT, the successor to British Waterways is yet another dysfunctional quango overloaded with overpaid self serving twats – I’d wager they’ll sell out the most popular bits of the system to some leisure multinational (Disney etc.) and head for the hills with the loot.

      Blair’s crew loaded the old BW board with a bunch of gruesome political cronies picking up paychecks for nowt.

      CaRT are birds of a feather with The Environment Agency. Bevan might notionally be in charge of the EA but in truth he’s simply a well rewarded talking head who simply parrots whatever is placed in front of him which is a bit of a change from his predecessor the flamboyant Baron Smiffy of Finsbury who actually managed to make up daft stuff all the time while not proclaiming about his STD status..

      If the dam fails they need to divert the torrent through the Augian Stables of the relevant public sector.

  8. Pancho Plail permalink
    August 3, 2019 11:59 am

    I went on holiday in Devon in 1952 the day after the Lynmouth disaster. I recall the steam train ploughing through what seemed to my young mind, vast seas of flood water and I recall seeing the aftermath of the flood in the town, with vast gouges of freshly exposed orange (if my memory serves me correctly) soil where the flood water had torn away the sides of the valley.
    I am assuming that global warming could not possibly have been the culprit then, but the cause was the same – exceptionally heavy rainfall on the high ground above the town.

  9. mikewaite permalink
    August 3, 2019 12:01 pm

    There was an interview on BBC NW with a member of the River and Canal Trust, who, to my surprise, have the responsibility to maintain the structure.
    If I remember correctly the Trust was set up to look after the canals (mainly) in order to shave a few millions of the Govt budget. This means that the canals, locks, dams, etc are maintained through volunteers, donations and charges on leisure craft. If you look at some of the locks , eg the one below Beeston Castle on the Shropshire Canal , then the money is clearly inadequate .
    Was it George Osbourne who washed his hands of responsibility for a significant national asset? If so that man has a lot to answer for- not that his life and career have suffered , unlike the residents of Whalley Bridge.

  10. Smoke&Mirrors permalink
    August 3, 2019 12:02 pm

    Again, it’s climate change that will be used as the Great Absolver.
    The dam wasn’t built to any standards we would recognise today, but there should be simple inspection and maintenance regimes that can control any risks of failure.
    The failure of the spillway slab isn’t a mystery. Water got under the slab through cracks.
    Cracks aren’t a mystery either, nor do they suddenly appear. The warning signs will have been visible, should have been recognised and action taken to reduce the risk.
    There will be much running for cover by those involved in the management of this infrastructure and the Great Absolver will be wheeled out in the hope of deflecting accountability.
    Don’t be fooled!

    • Duker permalink
      August 4, 2019 12:11 am

      New pictures released show considerable amounts of grass/weeds visible between slabs at the joints. Plus a small shrub!

  11. Harry Passfield permalink
    August 3, 2019 12:23 pm

    This is Yorkshire’s very own Oroville spillway collapse. Nothing to do with CC, more to do with delayed or non-existent maintenance.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      August 3, 2019 12:26 pm

      Not Yorkshire, of course – Peak District.

  12. Rowland P permalink
    August 3, 2019 12:43 pm

    Had a look on Google maps and couldn’t find the Bilberry dam. But, as ever, your diligent research reveals that those who blame this event on climate change are out-and-out frauds.

  13. Athelstan. permalink
    August 3, 2019 12:59 pm

    “Did Climate Change Damage The Whaley Bridge Dam?”

    Do the greens care a ****?

    Any excuse = climastrophism…………… the green effluent cannot be dammed, it should be damned – though.

  14. August 3, 2019 2:03 pm

    Virtually the whole of the main-stream media is left/socially liberal, and to get any sort of a balanced opinion one must read Breitbart News. The brilliant libertarian journalist Delingpole often contributes on topics which the BBC is obsessed with. The BBC should be ‘set free’ to report honestly, as it sees fit, instead of writing the story, and then searching for ‘evidence’. It’s hilarious to see examples of where that strategy fails miserably.

  15. David Kendrick permalink
    August 3, 2019 2:08 pm

    The Dam(Toddbrook reservior) dates from 1838, there were a series in the Peak District to supply water to a rapidly growing Manchester water transportation network of canals which were aggrigate clay dams in alternate layers, actively monitored with pipes sampling water visible in a control room where an alarm could be sounded if cloudy water was seen, There is not a fixed replacement date though worldwide the practice has been to rebuild or replace after 50 years for earth and 100 after concrete – by and large because concrete only lasts 100 years, with chemical erosion and that cost cutting & substandard rods have rusted. The dam should have been replaced on or around 1938, but we can blame saving Europe twice for the money going elsewhere.

  16. August 3, 2019 3:09 pm

    Off topic but –

    ‘The author discusses how the advent of computer modelling has turned Climate Science into what Sir Karl Popper would have called a pseudoscience’

    Click to access The-Power-of-Falsification-Developing-a-Greenhouse-Gas-Theory.pdf

  17. Michael Butterley permalink
    August 3, 2019 3:41 pm

    Awful Sky News interview this lunchtime with shouty Bob Ward (Grantham Institute) attempting to make a connection with his “Climate Change” and no end of dire predictions for we wicked people. No right of reply obviously as Sky is becoming as “woke” and biassed as the BBC.

  18. manicbeancounter permalink
    August 3, 2019 5:10 pm

    Hayfield, which had 2.55 in of rain in 73 min on 29 May 1944, is just 6 miles by road from Whaley Bridge. An excellent place for a pub crawl.

    It is mostly earth that has crumbled. The River Mersey in South Manchester is still discoloured with the brown of that earth. Normally after heavy rain it is normally a dark brown colour from a mixture of peat and earth.

  19. Ed. McKenna permalink
    August 3, 2019 5:11 pm

    A lot of ill-informed comment has been made about the failure at Todbrook Reservoir Dam. Firstly, the element that has failed was not part of the original construction. I would guess that the spillway slab was constructed in the 1980s or thereabouts to enhance the original spillway capacity so as to be able to pass the Probable Maximum Flood ( PMF) whilst retaining sufficient freeboard to the top of the earthen embankment. The need to cater for the PMF is a requirement of all Category A dams, ie a dam whose failure would endanger life.
    The option for spillway capacity enhancement was clearly chosen for reasons of economy. A new spillway of the required length could have been built at either end of the embankment ( perhaps less obviously so at the left- hand end) but these options would have required the associated construction of a new spillway channel down to the River Goyt. Such a solution would have been considerably more expensive than the chosen solution. The combination of poor option selection, possibly inadequate structural design and poor maintenance resulted in an accident waiting to happen.
    The fact that the spillway capacity would have been designed to pass the PMF renders otiose any talk of the current event rainfall being too great for the dam.
    I would also like to defend the reputations of the Victorian engineers responsible for design and construction of these early dams. They may not have understood much about the science of soil mechanics or flood hydrology but they knew what they were doing and the very many UK dams of the Todrook type still giving valuable service today, albeit with some subsequent enhancement, is testament to that fact.
    Perhaps the stupidest comment that I have heard came from the BBC’s David Shukman who described the dam as comprising a clay core supported by shoulders of “mud”. What an ass.

    • Philip Mulholland permalink
      August 4, 2019 11:20 am


      “Firstly, the element that has failed was not part of the original construction.”
      Good point.
      “The option for spillway capacity enhancement was clearly chosen for reasons of economy.”
      Quite so.
      “A new spillway of the required length could have been built at either end of the embankment ( perhaps less obviously so at the left- hand end) but these options would have required the associated construction of a new spillway channel down to the River Goyt.”

      It appears to me that the spillway failed because of a design fault.
      The width of the chute on the RHS is restricted below the lip. Water descending at this point will be concentrated as the retaining side wall narrows the flume width. More flow, more power, more erosion, more chance of undermining, and so this leads to the failure of the concrete slabs.

      “The combination of poor option selection, possibly inadequate structural design and poor maintenance resulted in an accident waiting to happen.”
      I agree.

  20. John F. Hultquist permalink
    August 3, 2019 6:11 pm

    There is a book review in the Wall Street Journal. Book’s author is Paul Morland, a research fellow at the University of London.
    The main concept of the book should be of interest to UK folks, and relevant to the aging infrastructure, such as the 100+ year old dams.
    [The USA roads, bridges, and dams are likewise of concern.]

    The book: Human Tide
    “How population shaped the modern world”
    . . . uses a series of historical examples to argue that the most powerful force shaping the modern world has been not ideology or economics or great men but demography—the growth and decline of national populations.

    Essentially, the idea is that nations build things during the 2nd stage of the demographic transition. In phase #3 it becomes difficult to maintain and/or improve all that was built.

    The WSJ is a subscription site, and I did not find other places that have reviewed this book.

  21. August 3, 2019 6:11 pm

    It’s very much in the interests of agencies, quangos, NGOs and the myriad of politicised charities to facilitate weather related mishaps as it feeds into the narrative. Some idiot from Natural England was being interviewed by some idiot on BBC Radio (Evan Davis) some years ago explaining why many of the UKs coastal defences would no longer be maintained.

    The reason was that “rising sea levels” made this pointless.

    Mr Davis, of course, encouraged his guest to agree that the government had to do more to “tackle climate change”.

    Not ONCE did he venture to suggest that allowing ancient sea defences to collapse would in itself cause coastal flooding and thus become a self fulfilling prophecy, regardless of any change in sea levels.

    Not once did he point out that these defences were vital in the past or that sea levels were the same now as when he was a kid.

    Not once did he point out with derision that alleged mean global sea level rise is 3mm annually so surely the defences could still save untold misery for many decades to come.

    So vital sea defences will be allowed to fail. The inevitable coastal flooding will make headline news, along with breathless autocue readers tellingbus about these unprecedented events being another product of a “climate emergency”.

    These people all fall into one of two categories: the thick or the evil.

  22. Dave Cowdell permalink
    August 3, 2019 7:27 pm

    Like others, I did have a laugh at David Shukman describing Toddbrook as being constructed of clay and mud, where do they get these people from?. I know that the spillway was upgraded in the 70s and indeed I installed some monitoring equipment ( piezometers and inclinometers) in the dam. Certainly in the 70s there was a programme of investigating old Victorian dams with instrumentation where justified. I wonder whether this has continued?
    As an aside, in Rhodesia in the early 70s, dams were designed on the basis of a 1000 year flood. In one year, we had 4 1000 year floods!

    • dennisambler permalink
      August 4, 2019 10:13 am

      ..where do they get these people from? It seems the requirement is blind obedience and getting things wrong is not a problem:

      July 14, 2009

      After a 20-year-long role at the BBC, Peter Sissons has attacked the anti-journalistic culture at the BBC. Writing in the Mail on Sunday (the article has been taken off-line for some reason), Sissons outlines some key reasons for his decision to leave.

      “Before I left News At Ten, I had to read out on air the BBC’s longest apology. It lasted nearly two minutes, and in it the BBC apologised to a diamond-mining firm called Oryx Natural Resources.

      A report had falsely linked the firm with Al Qaeda, accusing one of its major shareholders of being a convicted terrorist. The two men had the same surname.

      This humiliation for the BBC could have been avoided if one of journalism’s basic rules had been followed: if you think that you’ve got someone bang to rights, ring them up and ask them what they’ve got to say about it. But the story was, as they say, too good to check, and it greatly dented the BBC’s journalistic reputation, as well as its libel fund.”

      Shukman was the intrepid reporter. “BBC Seduced by Tale of ‘al Qaeda Diamond Trade,’ Now Being Sued” The Guardian – December 10, 2001, another article now missing online.

      Interestingly, Sissons went on to climate discussions:

      “On a wintry Saturday last December, there was what was billed as a major climate change rally in London.

      The leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas, went into the Westminster studio to be interviewed by me on the BBC News channel. She clearly expected what I call a ‘free hit’; to be allowed to voice her views without being challenged on them.

      I pointed out to her that the climate didn’t seem to be playing ball at the moment. We were having a particularly cold winter, even though carbon emissions were increasing. Indeed, there had been no warming for ten years, contradicting all the alarming computer predictions.

      Well, she was outraged. I don’t have the actual transcript, but Miss Lucas told me angrily that it was disgraceful that the BBC — the BBC! — should be giving any kind of publicity to those sort of views. I believe I am one of a tiny number of BBC interviewers who have so much as raised the possibility that there is another side to the debate on climate change.

      The Corporation’s most famous interrogators invariably begin by accepting that ‘the science is settled’, when there are countless reputable scientists and climatologists producing work that says it isn’t.

      But it is effectively BBC policy, enthusiastically carried out by the BBC environment correspondents, that those views should not be heard — witness the BBC statement last year that ‘BBC News currently takes the view that their reporting needs to be calibrated to take into account the scientific consensus that global warming is man-made’.

      Politically the argument may be settled, but any inquisitive journalist can find ample evidence that scientifically it is not.”

  23. August 3, 2019 8:15 pm

    Reblogged this on WeatherAction News and commented:

    parts of the North West had seen 40mm to 50mm of rain in about 24 hours, with 52.2mm recorded between 11am on Saturday and 11am on Sunday at Greenfield near Oldham.

    As Paul points out, much vaster falls often occur, let alone records, but in the frequent depressions and thunderstorms that traverse the country. The likelyhood is that yet again, the climate bogeyman is being conjured to cover up bureaucratic incompetence.

  24. greeny permalink
    August 3, 2019 8:27 pm

    I remember in the 1980’s there was a lot of concern about the integrity of a lot of the old earth dams on the peninnes. Not a lot of work has been done on them since to my knowledge.

  25. Adam Gallon permalink
    August 3, 2019 10:41 pm

    I wonder if any of these people have heard of the Dale Dyke Dam?

  26. saparonia permalink
    August 4, 2019 1:07 pm

    This is England, It rains a lot. This summer is normal. We have totally crap maintenance of older structures because the people who designed them are long gone and they lived in a different world.

    Not so long ago, I think it was about 15 years back, a bridge that was regularly carrying steel trains near Rotherham had to be closed for repair because when they went to check the foundations it didn’t have any. That’s right, no foundations.

  27. Susan permalink
    August 4, 2019 4:12 pm

    True that such public infrastructure should be more closely and thoroughly monitored. However climate change is putting a lot more stress on our infrastructure. It is not just about the rainfall but the Europe-wide heatwave that preceded it.

  28. Royce Longden permalink
    August 4, 2019 6:49 pm

    Ha the dam was in a terrible state.. water just got in under the slabs and washed out everything underneath till the slabs gave way.. its terrible to see so much foliage growing between the slabs that are there to do an important job of diverting water away..

  29. August 4, 2019 8:11 pm

    Susan. What have heat waves got to do with “climate change? Apart from absolutely nothing?

  30. Paul Nightingale permalink
    August 4, 2019 9:01 pm

    Utter drivel the wall is designed to be overtopped ffs it’s a Dam wall this is pure and simple failure to maintain the spillway nothing to do with climate change more to do with greed

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