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Independent Reservoir Safety Review Report

Volume 695: debated on Thursday 13 May 2021

Today I am publishing Professor David Balmforth’s review into the application of current legislation for reservoir safety which considers whether the regulation of reservoirs remains effective and robust in securing the ongoing safety of this critical infrastructure. This review follows Professor Balmforth’s initial report into the lessons that could be taken from the Toddbrook reservoir incident, where parts of the spillway collapsed following significant heavy rainfall.

I thank Professor Balmforth, and all those who contributed, for a comprehensive assessment of the current reservoir safety framework, and his further recommendations for improvement.

Key findings

The report recognises that there is already a well-established regime to manage the safety of our reservoirs, and that the legislation that supports it is well understood by all those involved, with high levels of compliance. It recognises that many reservoirs have appropriate surveillance, operation and maintenance but the report raises concerns that this is not applied consistently across the industry as a whole.

The report found that both the legislation and industry practice has not always kept pace with the risk-based approach adopted for health and safety in other industries, resulting in a potentially disproportionate approach for measuring risk. Professor Balmforth also found that not all reports received from engineers were clear or well understood by owners and operators, which may be leading to delays in repairs, and/or ongoing regular maintenance at some sites.

The review highlights that the regulator for reservoir safety, the Environment Agency in England, has limited opportunity to quality-assure the overall processes and procedures, which is a key role of other regulators.

The role of panel engineers is central to ensuring all our reservoirs are managed and maintained to minimise risk to public safety. This report finds that while the appointment process ensures competent and capable individuals are in these roles, improvements could be made in respect of the current fragmented approach and leadership for ongoing development and knowledge sharing. There is concern that the supply of appropriately qualified and experienced engineers for the future may not keep pace with need.


Examples of good practice from across the reservoir industry, other regulated industries and international experience have been used to inform a set of comprehensive and interlinked recommendations for both Government and the industry to consider.

The recommendations include:

Seven recommendations (or parts thereof) that relate directly to developing a reservoir safety regime through a risk/hazard based approach

Five recommendations (or parts thereof) relating to panel engineer and owners roles and responsibilities

Three recommendations (or parts thereof) in respect of panel engineer supply and/or ongoing development of the engineers and/or owners

Six recommendations to strengthen the role of the regulator (Environment Agency) including new responsibilities, duties and powers

One recommendation for Government to consider the legislative framework in the round

I welcome these recommendations, and their potential to further strengthen how Government and the reservoir sector itself can embed and secure an effective safety culture. While some of the ideas and recommendations can, and indeed must, be taken forward by the industry itself as good practice now, others will likely require legislative changes.

DEFRA will take forward detailed work, including with the industry, to explore these recommendations further. This will ensure we have a reservoir safety regime that is fit for the future, without disproportionate burden on those responsible.

Alongside this review, Government have taken action to further strengthen reservoir safety, including making it a statutory requirement for registered reservoirs to prepare on-site emergency flood plans. I have issued a direction to this effect to all undertakers of large raised reservoirs in England. This will ensure that those responsible have plans in place and are prepared to mitigate and/or manage an emerging or actual emergency that could result in an uncontrolled release of water. Thankfully such incidents are very rare in this country, but the experience from Toddbrook clearly demonstrates how important this preparation is.