By Sarah Bates
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Could this dam cope with a climate catastrophe?

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Issue 2666
The dam is around 180 years old
The dam is around 180 years old (Pic: David Dunford)

People in Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire, looked as if they faced a catastrophic disaster last week. A dam holding around 1.3 million tonnes of water seemed set to collapse.

Over 1,500 residents were evacuated after a month and a half’s worth of rain fell in just 48 hours on the Derbyshire hills. Part of the exterior wall of a dam at Toddbrook reservoir started to fall away as a result of the increased pressure.

Barry Rudd, a Whaley Bridge resident and volunteer for the Canal and River Trust—the body responsible for maintaining the dam—described the situation as “tense.”

“My van is laden with gear because we didn’t know what we would need if the dam burst and there was a rescue or clean-up operation,” he said. “We are just waiting and waiting now”.

The fire service, police and army were all drafted in to help with rescue efforts. Some 23 machines frantically pumped out water from the reservoir, which sits directly above part of the town.

Residents were still evacuated when Socialist Worker went to press. Emergency services said the dam would have to be drained to around 25 percent full before people can go home.


People have been forced to stay in emergency accommodation or with friends and family.

And the police said residents weren’t allowed a short visit home to collect medical supplies and pets from their homes.

RAF Chinook helicopters have dropped more than 500 tonnes of aggregate in an attempt to shore up the damaged wall. More than 1,000 sandbags have been dropped on the dam, with concrete poured behind the sandbags to secure the structure.

The dam is around 180 years old, and emergency services say there is a “real risk” it could still collapse and cause chaos.

Police deputy chief constable Rachel Swann said, “There is a real prospect that the dam could fail, and if it fails it is catastrophic.

“People would die if they were in that evacuation zone.”

Derbyshire chief fire officer Terry McDermott said that rescue boats have been placed in the region in case of collapse.

But the fire service has less resources to deal with such a disaster, as Tory cuts mean the number of full time firefighters in Derbyshire has fallen by 12 percent since 2010.

Water is being pumped out and diverted into local waterways, which is increasing the risk of flooding in nearby towns.

The army was deployed in Marple, a town six miles from Whaley Bridge, after fears the River Goyt could flood.

Urgent questions need to be asked about how Whaley Bridge was allowed to get so close to utter devastation.

Climate change is causing weather events to become more extreme and increasingly unpredictable.

The heatwave in July was one insight into how Britain is not ready for the unfolding climate catastrophe.

Whaley Bridge is another example of how urgent the situation is.

It looks as if the town could escape relatively unharmed. But instead of congratulating itself, the government needs to urgently address shoddy infrastructure and lack of planning that could kill us all.

No extension for fracking 

Fracking firm Cuadrilla is trying to get an extension to carry on fracking past its end of November deadline.

It wants to begin fracking at its Preston New Road site in Lancashire this month.

A condition of the original planning consent detailed that the Cuadrilla was allowed to drill and frack four wells, but it couldn’t take longer than 30 months.

So far Cuadilla has two wells, known as PNR1 and PNR2.

PNR1 fracked for three months from October 2018.

The operation caused repeated earthquakes and delays throughout.

The fossil fuel firm said that as it has only spent 21 months drilling the well and fracking, it should be allowed extra time.

But it hasn’t said how much extra time it wants.

If it is allowed an extra nine months, it means local residents will face disruption, seismic shifts and pollution until August 2020.

Companies shouldn’t be given extra powers to frack away—all fossil fuels should be left in the ground.

Stop new Thames Tunnel

Activists are taking the fight against the proposed Silvertown Tunnel to the streets this week.

Extinction Rebellion members will join with other local campaigners to “swarm” south east London on Friday. The tunnel is a new planned road crossing under the Thames, which activists say is unnecessary and hugely polluting.

Campaigners are demanding that construction is cancelled, and investment is made into public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure in south east London.

Call for a climate shutdown 

With the global climate strike only six weeks away activists across Britain are preparing for action.

In Plymouth, at an Extinction Rebellion meeting campaigners organised 14 leafletting sessions. School students there are planning a city centre demonstration alongside trade unionists.

In Lambeth, south London, council workers are demanding that bosses shut the doors for the day so workers can join in the action.

Southwark Trades Council, also in south London, agreed last week to organise a climate strike public meeting in September.

Organising meetings will take place across Britain throughout August and September.

For details of the Silvertown Tunnel demonstration go to

Some upcoming climate strike organising ­meetings:

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