Toddbrook Reservoir

Toddbrook Reservoir

The dam at Toddbrook. Source: Twitter

By now many will no doubt be aware of the calamity that occurred at Whaley Bridge in August 2019 (this is now three years ago) when much of the picturesque town had to be evacuated because of the danger of the Toddbrook reservoir which looms over the town, failing and causing unprecedented flooding – and seen the huge efforts taken at the time to prevent the town becoming a causality of any impeding disaster..

Toddbrook reservoir is in Derbyshire and was built in 1838 for the Peak Forest Canal. It is one of the higher canal reservoirs in the country, and there is a simple reason for this, the canals it feeds are some of the UK’s highest canals at an elevation of 518 feet/157m (barring the summit level on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal at 644 feet/196m and Titford at 511 feet/155m elevation.)

The damage to Toddbrook Reservoir. Source: Twitter

Contrary to what a lot of people assumed on social media (and even on the news) the canal was built first (and the reservoir too) and the town grew up by the reservoir, because it became a hot spot in terms of industry and transshipment between the canal and the Cromford and High Peak Railway.

At one time it was thought the risk to life was so great Canal & River Trust would have to close it & use its other reservoirs in the area eg Boseley and Sutton (which are remote – as well as Combs further up from Toddbrook. No doubt a backpumping scheme would have to be devised to make up for the shortfall. The problem however was Toddbrook is a major player in keeping the canals plentiful with water.

The RAF Chinook being used to plug the breach in the dam. Source: Twitter

There is no doubt going to be an enormous cost involved in repairing the reservoir and making it ultra-safe for Whaley Bridge and the towns and communities further down the Goyt Valley further down. These communities are important because they are dormitory towns essential to Manchester and are connected by railway.

In recent years they have even built houses right along the bottom of the reservoir which shows just how large the town has become and how people have always though their homes would be safe. These days no-one would be allowed to build a dam of this size and scale above a town.

Coombs reservoir. Source: Twitter. (Note: The tweet has been deleted/made private thus an archived image is used.)

Coombs reservoir which also feeds the canal system is further up the valley but its not so high nor so large and it can still be used. Boseley is a huge reservoir sited on the Macclesfield Canal and that can be very easily used to feed the Peak Forest Canal as well as another smaller one at Sutton.

The canals hereabouts are considerably important because they supply water to the ones lower down such as the Trent and Mersey, Ashton and Bridgewater canals in Cheshire and Greater Manchester.

Although there are other sources such as those coming down the Huddersfield Narrow Canal these aren’t beneficial to the Macclesfield/Peak Forest canals unless water is back-pumped.

Recent picture of Boseley on the Macclesfield Canal. Source: Twitter

UPDATE: The reservoir seems okay, The hole in the dam has been largely plugged. Now there’s further work to be done and of course investigations will be necessary.

Some of the more expert opinions think the reservoir will be repaired fully and put back into use. I’m not so sure, but then I’m no engineer or qualified of any sort. I just think the residents of the town wouldn’t want the reservoir back in use after all this trouble – would they even feel safe? To this end CRT has held meeting with the locals to assure them the reservoir is absolutely safe.

UPDATE SATURDAY 3RD AUGUST 2019: Loads of stuff on social media with many even questioning why a dam has been built almost right in the centre of a town (its a complicated sort of history that!) But there has also been more and more people thinking its not a good idea to continue to have a dam at this location.

Even professionals have chipped in with their thoughts on the matter and concluded the reservoir shouldn’t be here. The new PM at the time, Boris Johnson, was reported as saying the dam should be rebuilt.

Clearly there are many opinions as to how the matter should proceed. The first of course to be dealt with as most will know, is to get the reservoir and its dam made completely safe before the next lot of rainfall.

Then there will be investigations, surveys, enquiries, with the opportunity to blame the reservoir’s management, frequency of inspections and so on. In the longer term certainly a decision will be made whether to keep the reservoir and rebuild its dam or decommission it completely. Its something that wont be divulged for a few more months though.

Subsequently CRT confirmed they would rebuild the reservoir and implement new safety measures. Major work is to begin in the Autumn of 2022.

Update June 2022:

Updated information on reservoir including the start of preparatory works in the summer of 2022 followed by major reconstruction from the autumn.