Government Welcomes Findings of Independent Reservoir Safety Review

Second part of review examines the effectiveness of current legislation based on the safety and regulation of reservoirs

Proposals to improve the approach for reservoir inspections, ensure reservoir owners are more proactive in ensuring safety and give the Environment Agency more regulatory powers have been welcomed by the Government today (Thursday 13 May 2021), following the completion of an independent review of reservoir safety by Professor David Balmforth.

England already has some of the toughest reservoir regulations in the world and the review acknowledges the ‘well-established’ regime to manage their safety. Professor Balmforth’s recommendations encourage government, the regulator and reservoir owners to further build on this strong record.

The recommendations include:

  • additional duties and powers for the Environment Agency, as the regulator of reservoirs, to ensure public safety is delivered by owners and operators;

  • consider the rail and nuclear industry operating models, where owners and operators contribute to the costs of regulation;

  • owners to adopt a systematic and well-documented approach to reservoir safety management;

  • supervising and inspecting engineers to ensure all inspections are systematic, detailed, and impartial;

  • and that high-risk reservoirs should be managed and operated on the basis of risk, to ensure their ongoing safety.

The Government has welcomed the review’s recommendations, and will now work with the Environment Agency and industry to explore them further.

In addition, a Ministerial Direction has been issued to owners of all large raised reservoirs, making it a legal requirement for them to prepare on-site emergency flood plans. This will ensure that those responsible are prepared and ready to mitigate in the unlikely event of an emerging or actual emergency that could result in an uncontrolled release of water.

Floods Minister Rebecca Pow said:

As Professor Balmforth recognises, our reservoirs have a good safety record, but we must continue to strive for the highest standards.
I welcome this important review and will now take forward detailed work with industry and the Environment Agency to explore the recommendations so that we have a safety regime fit for the long-term.
Owners and operators must always minimise safety risks, and we have tightened legal requirements for all large reservoirs so that they have to prepare on-site emergency flood plans and be ready to act quickly in an emergency.

Professor David Balmforth said:

I have thoroughly reviewed the processes and practices that ensure the safety of our reservoirs in England, and I am grateful to the very many organisations and individuals, both here and overseas, that have assisted with this.
Whilst I have found many examples of good practice, there are, nevertheless, a number of areas where improvements should be made. I have therefore made a range of recommendations to strengthen our reservoir safety practices and to give additional powers to the Environment Agency.
It is now up to the Government to decide the best way to take forward these recommendations, including any future changes in regulations and primary legislation.

Caroline Douglass, Environment Agency Executive Director for Flood and Coastal Risk Management, said:

We welcome the opportunity to work with Defra and the industry to explore the recommendations further, and how we can advance the safety of reservoirs and ensure they remain resilient in a changing climate.
We have a strong track record of reservoir safety in England and this report confirms this, but we should always be ready to improve and aim for even higher standards.

Richard Coackley, Chair of the ICE Reservoirs Committee, said:

Appropriately qualified engineers are central to the safety management of reservoirs in the UK and we’re pleased the Review recognises the need for an increased number of high-quality individuals to carry out reservoir safety supervision and inspection. It is essential that standards are continuously maintained and improved, and that as a profession we strive to improve our knowledge, systems and processes - we agree with the recommendations to reinforce this across the industry.
The report rightly recognises the need for reservoir owners to take further responsibility for the safety and management of their assets, and the need for a broader range of enforcing authority powers. The Committee will continue to work with stakeholders to take these recommendations forward, and to ensure that reservoir and public safety is maintained into the future.

The second part of the reservoir was commissioned by the Secretary of State in June 2020 to examine the effectiveness of current legislation based on the safety and regulation of reservoirs. It follows the first part of the review, which was published in March 2020, and focused on the incident at Toddbrook Reservoir in August 2019.

The 22 recommendations set out in Professor Balmforth’s initial report are being implemented.