A cleaner and greener borough with the Environment Agency
Date published: 03 January 2020
Debris screen clearing
Hello from everyone at the Environment Agency and welcome to our latest round-up exclusively for Rochdale Online.
From climate change to flooding, 2019 was a memorable year for Team EA. Therefore, as we get ready to ring in the New Year, let’s take a look back at the environmental highs and lows of 2019.
We hope you enjoy reading. Here’s what we have been up to in Rochdale over the last twelve months.
690 debris screens cleared and the risk of flooding reduced
Over the last twelve months, our operations team have removed blockages and cleared 690 debris screens throughout the local area. Although this activity falls under our general maintenance activity, it is perhaps some of the most vital work we can do to help reduce flood risk to the community by ensuring the rivers and streams of Rochdale and Bury remain clear.
When it comes to general maintenance where and when we go depends on the location, time of year and rainfall. Grids around the Rochdale area are put on a regular maintenance schedule with Team EA paying each one a visit at least every fortnight.
What might surprise you however is that even on dry days or before flooding is imminent, our teams are still working hard, behind the scenes, to reduce flood risk to homes and businesses across the country every day. We carry out regular maintenance and repairs, work with other organisations to prepare and advise on flooding matters, and constantly monitor river levels and forecasts.
For example, in early October, our confined space team and field operations team members from our Sale depot attended an incident at Rochdale town centre to remove a significant amount of debris from the bridge piers. This is a key river crossing in Rochdale town centre.
This request for the work came directly from our partners at Rochdale Council. We had to wait for the river to drop to a safe level before clearing the debris but once our team had safe access, they had all the debris removed. This was one of our more high-profile pieces of work in Rochdale this year and received positive feedback from the council office staff.
Of course, reducing the risk of flooding is something we can all play a part in by simply disposing of our rubbish correctly. Keeping our waterways clear is always the first line of defence against floods and our teams are now full immersed in our ‘Winter Ready’ activities. They will be out regularly checking all of Rochdale’s main rivers and streams to reduce flood risk and protect people so if you do see them, stop by and say hello or give them a wave. Interacting with the residents of the communities we serve is sometimes one of the best parts of the job.
Responding to incidents and protecting our communities
2019 has been a challenging year for our environment. Complete with a deluge of wet weather it was a far cry from last year when we saw a seemingly unending summer and with it, the vast moorland fires during the heatwave.
Rain, and with it, flooding was the theme of this year. In fact, over the course of 2019, we responded to more than 329 reports of flooding or flood risk and we issued 99 flood alerts, 74 flood warnings and one severe flood warning across Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire.
Each and every one of us remember the images that came as a result. Streets and properties filled with flood water and of course, the haunting and pictures of the threatened dam collapse of Toddbrook Reservoir in Whaley Bridge.
In Rochdale itself, the second and third highest river levels were recorded in some parts of the River Roch catchment during 16 March and 28 July this year, when a significant operational response was required. Once again, our teams on the ground worked 24/7 grid clearing, undertaking recovery works as well as flood forecasting and issuing flood warnings to your communities.
Our changing climate means we constantly need to renew our understanding of the risks we face from our rivers and coastlines and implement ever more innovative methods to keep them at bay.
We can do this in a number of ways such as combining natural flood risk management schemes alongside traditional defences or by embracing technical innovation such as drone technology to give a bird’s eye view of our developing schemes or ground investigations. We can also keep our communities safe by securing our vital infrastructure via regular and through asset inspections and environmental management.
However, it is vital that we take into account all of those who have a part to play in managing flooding and coastal change, in particular the voices of our communities who live with the fear and consequences of flooding. Once again, at a local level we are doing just that. In Rochdale and Bury, we already have strong relationships with local flood resilience groups but we have used the lessons learnt from the floods of 2019 to implement a substantial process of collaboration with all affected communities to change the way individuals think and feel about personal flood resilience.
The good news is as a result of this continued engagement more than five new community groups have been set up across Greater Manchester. Through these grassroots groups, communities are able to have a voice as to the future flood risk of their community, instigate ‘flood watchers’ and create better flood resilience at a local level.
In turn, we are listening and taking on-board their visions for how we could collectively manage flooding and coastal change moving forward under the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan.
The year of change
While flooding may have been one of the hot buttons for incidents this year, our environment still faced plenty of other obstacles.
Climate change has been one of the most talked about issues of 2019. So much so that the UN 2019 Climate Summit convened on the theme, "Climate Action Summit 2019: A Race We Can Win. A Race We Must Win."
It is clear that it is no longer a question of ‘if’ climate change is happening but rather how we can stop its impacts on our rivers, seas, air quality and communities becoming the new normal. And a lot of action has taken place already.
Back in March, the Green Summit 2019 showcased what challenges the region is stepping up to including creating the largest Clean Air Zone outside of London as well as detailed proposals to substitute fossil fuels with low-carbon energy alternatives by 2038. What’s most exciting about this is the fact that we now have evidence that this work is actually saving lives. By creating cleaner, greener air in Greater Manchester, we have already saved 1,000 life years for our local population so far!
2019 was also the year that we announced the development of the IGNITION project alongside 11 of our partners.
IGNITION is a first-of-its-kind, project that allows us to actually walk the walk against the Government’s Green Finance Strategy. The project sets a target of a 10% increase in green infrastructure in Greater Manchester by 2038 and links into to the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and Urban Pioneer which sets out plans for homes, jobs and the environment to support the city region’s carbon neutral commitment.
To complement this and to coincide with the Year of Green Action, the government published the first progress report of its landmark 25 Year Environment Plan indicating that, in the first year alone, 90% of the plan’s actions have been delivered or are being progressed.
There is no doubt that we now all have a heightened sense of urgency when it comes to climate change and 2019 has brought a number of success in our efforts to tackle it. But, we still need bold ideas to inspire innovation beyond what people think is possible and we also need an acceptance of the realities we face. Alongside our partners within local authorities and government bodies, we are at the front line of making Greater Manchester “climate-proof” and we are determined to take every transformative action to continue to lead the way for change into 2020 and beyond.
Boosting our biodiversity
It’s also been a good year for biodiversity. From the first stage of a £20K restoration project, along one of Bolton’s industrial watercourses, to baffles (which help ease the movement of fish by increasing the depth of water and producing a slower, more turbulent flow) being installed in The Big Humpty’, we have been helping our local fish populations across Greater Manchester ‘keep on swimming’, throughout 2019.
Another environmental win came from the ‘non-discovery’ of non-native species. This year, we had received reports that the invasive non-native American signal crayfish was taking over some of our rivers across Greater Manchester. However during a survey in the Oldham area we were pleased to find a healthy male white clawed crayfish, our protected native crayfish.
The white-clawed crayfish is the UK's only native freshwater crayfish and has been described as "the UK's black rhino" due to their population decline. So to find a healthy male in our local watercourses is a massive success story of 2019.
Building flood defences
Of course no end of year round-up would be complete without an update around Rochdale’s brand new flood defence scheme.
Works on further development of the Rochdale and Littleborough Flood Risk Scheme have progressed well over the last few months, with detailed design for Littleborough flood walls and enabling works at the proposed storage basin (Phase 1a) nearing completion.
The first planning application for features such as flood walls and enabling works in Littleborough is expected to be submitted in late January 2020 and a drop-in and newsletter will be held/issued at a similar time. If the planning applications and business cases are successfully approved in the first half of 2020 then work is hoped to begin on the ground late summer/early autumn 2020, which is fantastic news.
Planning applications for further works in Littleborough will follow later in the year, at the same time as detailed design in Rochdale (Phase 2) is progressed.
We hope 2020 will be an extremely busy year for the scheme with two planning applications potentially submitted and a start to the site works.
We will ensure that we continue to engage you all during this time through newsletters, drop-ins and via social media and we welcome any feedback or questions (drop us a line at: email@example.com).
Stay in touch
We hope you have enjoyed reading about some of the challenges your local Environment Agency team have faced this year as well as all of the success stories that come from them. Don’t forget you can stay up-to-date with the latest news and information from the Environment Agency on Twitter and Instagram at @EnvAgencyNW.
We look forward to sharing more of our stories with you in February.
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