Watch: Video shows York's upgraded River Foss flood barrier in action

Staff operating York’s flood defences have had their work cut out with the five months to March being the wettest since 1872, while the second half of 2023 was the wettest in the region since records began.

The Foss Barrier in York, which was built in 1989 to protect the city from the type of flooding it saw seven years previously, is run by the Environment Agency whose Yorkshire operations are based in a control room at the barrier.

Sitting on the confluence of the rivers Foss and Ouse, the barrier shuts to prevent high flows from the Ouse heading up the Foss where it will flood the city.

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A pumping station sends the Foss’s flow into the Ouse where floodplains up stream at Clifton Ings or downstream at Bishopthorpe can be inundated instead of the city.

Environment Agency's Mark Fuller at River Foss Barrier. Picture Jonathan GawthorpeEnvironment Agency's Mark Fuller at River Foss Barrier. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe
Environment Agency's Mark Fuller at River Foss Barrier. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

York saw flooding on a historic scale in 2015 when the Foss Barrier was opened. Mark Fuller, who works in flood management for the agency, says while it was unfortunate, it was a calculated decision which caused a slower inundation of people’s properties than may have happened had the barrier remained closed.

While the pumps sending water into the Ouse could manage with a maximum of 30 tonnes of water per second, the flow in the Foss during that once-in-a-lifetime event was closer to 40 tonnes per second.

“When everything’s working, we’re not noticed,” says Mr Fuller.

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Recently they have had their work cut out for them in terms of managing flood defences.

Since 2015, the Environment Agency says it has invested £104m in York on improving flood defences, including upgrading the pumps at the Foss Barrier to now be able to handle 50 tonnes of water per second.

In 2021/22, the figure for investment from the Environment Agency across Yorkshire and the Humber was £146m, an increase of £40m.

“One of the big things that we’re having to deal with is our incidents are getting worse,” says team leader Marilyn Sanderson. “It’s climate change. When it comes to flooding, we’re seeing more severe floods that are more frequent and longer in duration.”

Discussing the scale of the operation, she says there are more than 500 staff responsible for flood response in Yorkshire for the Environment Agency.

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