Another eight reservoirs at risk?

Published: Friday, 11 October 2019

ARE eight reservoirs with concrete spillways similar to that at Toddbrook at risk? asks Allan Richards.

In a written statement to parliament on 3rd September 2019, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Theresa Villiers told that extra checks were being carried out at a number of reservoirs.  However, the Environment Agency, who ordered the checks is refusing to name the reservoirs. Again, it is a matter of national security and public safety.

Written statement

Here is part of the statement.  A link to the full statement can be found at the foot of the article.

'... the Environment Agency, as the regulator for reservoir safety, have contacted the operators of over 2,000 reservoirs since the Toddbrook incident requesting that all operators check that there are no safety concerns.  The EA has identified eight reservoirs that have concrete spillways with some similarity to Toddbrook Reservoir and has followed up directly with the owners of these eight reservoirs to secure additional inspections. At this stage there is no indication of any concerns with any of these eight reservoirs'.

A month later, no update has been given on what these additional inspections found.

Information request

A information request made on 8th September quoted the written statement asking for the names of the eight reservoirs and the owners. Verbose responses with multiple images and attachments were received the same day and on the 11th September but not the information requested.  After being reminded that, by law they should have replied promptly and within 20 working days, EA apologised for the delay.

A further communication again apologised for the delay but then refused to provide the reservoir names and the names of the owners claiming it would 'adversely affect National Security and public safety'.


The Environment Agency provided the following explanation:

'We have weighed the public interest factors in favour of maintaining the exception for adverse effect on national security and public safety and find that they outweigh the public interest factors in disclosing the information. In carrying out the public interest test we have considered:

Factors in favour of releasing the information, in particular the general presumption of openness. The Environment Agency would only withhold information if it is sure that disclosure would cause substantial harm.  Here the harm is to public safety which is a serious matter.  We have considered the need to promote accountability and transparency taking into consideration your interest in these reservoirs, and interest generally in ensuring that large raised reservoirs are both safe and maintained.  We have considered whether the information is already public and in the case of the requested information, it is not.  We have considered the contribution that release of the information would make to public debate of issues and we recognise your particular interest.

We have considered factors in favour of withholding the information, in particular the strength and number of grounds in the legislation.  During the current heightened status of threat to national security, there is a high level of public interest in not releasing information that would result in a threat to public safety.  The advice from the Security Service is that to release key details of the infrastructure or vulnerabilities of the reservoirs would prejudice the protection and safety of the public through potential damage or disruption to the national infrastructure by acts of sabotage.

As indicated, upon assessing the factors in the public interest test, we have assessed that in relation to the national security exceptions, we find that the factors in favour of withholding information outweigh the public interest factors in disclosing the information'.

Disclosure would cause substantial harm

In case you missed it, EA are sure that providing the names of eight reservoirs with concrete spillways similar to that at Toddbrook would cause substantial harm to public safety.

Asked to review its decision to withhold the names of the reservoirs, EA agreed to do so but warned that this could take up to 40 working days.

Flooding over the summer and Reservoir Review: Written statement - HCWS1808