Flood squad keeps us safe

Tom Hamling (Field team leader) and Chris Collin (Flood control risk managemen officer).
Tom Hamling (Field team leader) and Chris Collin (Flood control risk managemen officer).

As the wet weather puts many parts of England under water, the Environment Agency is working round the clock to prevent flooding in Bedford.

From its office in a grey industrial estate, the staff at the agency’s Bedford depot monitor river levels and rainfall along the River Great Ouse.

The river runs 143 miles from central England to the East Anglian coast, passing through the heart of Bedford and North Beds villages.

Examining the latest figures, flood control risk management officer Chris Collin explained: “There are gauging stations measuring the water level all along the river, and on its tributaries. There are also rainfall gauges at places like Brackley, where the Great Ouse starts.

“Using the measurements we can calculate the time lag from the rain to the rise in river level and see it coming down the river. This helps us make decisions as to what action to take.”

The river flow can then be controlled by the numerous weirs, sluice gates, locks and flood walls, operated by on-call staff if the river reaches a trigger level.

Field team leader Tom Hamling said: “The team could go out at 2am to install defences but using the data we can predict conditions and send them out earlier when it is safer, rather than having them working in the dark.

“For example, in Bedford we can use dam boards to plug the gaps in the southern side of the defence walls by Bedford Girls’ School. The gaps are there to allow access to the river but once closed the wall will contain the river if need be.”

As the Great Ouse is closed to navigation, locks can also be used to control flow. Mr Hamling said: “We can set the locks half open to allow water through. They do this manually so they can inspect it.”

Inspecting and maintaining the defences forms a large part of the work. Mr Hamling said they are currently collecting information on fallen trees in the river which have got stuck in structures such as bridges and weirs. “But,” he added: “Because of the high water, we can’t get them out. We’ve got a list of what there is to do once levels go down.”

As there doesn’t seem to be a break in the weather, the teams remain on constant stand-by. Mr Hamling said: “The guys are pretty tired, but they’re doing an amazing job.”

To look at the latest Environment Agency data, or sign up to flood alerts, go to www.environment-agency.gov.uk