Re: River Flow Rates and Safety
- From: Carl <carl@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sat, 03 Mar 2007 18:14:53 +0000
As you may be able to guess from my user name, I'm fairly heavily
involved in the planning of Reading Uni Head. At the moment we're not
sure if we're going to be able to run the event or not, but are very
much hoping that we will.
A week ago as a Uni we went to the BUSA head up on the Trent, where
the river flow rate was very rapid (a lot of course records went, and
crews were covering the 5k in about 12 minutes). With there not being
the issue of red boards on the Trent, the event went ahead, and a good
and safe day's racing was had by all.
Back down on the Reading stretch today, however, we were on red boards
despite the flow rate of the river being less than it was on the Trent
(we didn't know any measurements at the Trent, but the river was
flowing visibly slower to the eye). As I'm sure most people are aware,
the EA are the key to events running, as if the red boards are up, we
aren't covered by insurance, so obviously we can't run the event.
Now my question is, if a BUSA event in which some crews were very
novicey, including eights and fours, can run safely in certain
conditions, should it not be possible to run an eights only head
safely in the same conditions - fast stream, following wind,
regardless of where in the country the river is situated?
I understand that safety is paramount and I'm definatley not
attempting to undermine the position that an event has to be safe in
order to run, I'm just interested on what people's opinions are on the
recent spate of event cancellations on the Thames, and if people think
that hypothetically the events could have been run without decending
into chaos and unsafe practice. At Reading, we have a very visible
river flow rate meter below the bridge - would it not be possible to
have a set list of flow levels - safe for all, experienced crews only,
no racing etc rather than just enforcing blanket cancellations on the
basis of a "strong stream"?
There is a lot of history to this, Simon. And there is even more protecting of backs going on.
Fundamental to the red-board scam on the Thames is the design of Thames sluices. Go through one of those rising sector, anti-scour sluices and you _will_ die - in the process very possibly being beaten to a pulp as well as being drowned.
The Thames is a well-managed river, in the sense of controlling a wide range of flows within an increasingly built-up flood plain. The quality of management is a tribute to some original thinking 50 or so years ago, some ingenious design & a couple of generations of very thoughtful, skilled & sometimes brave river management & maintenance staff.
Unfortunately, the devices by which the river flows are controlled are for the most part devoid of any protection for unfortunates who, through no fault of their own, end up in the drink. Upstream of every sluice there exists a killing zone: find yourself within that zone as a swimmer and you will go through the sluices & you will die. The dimensions of that killing zone vary with the state of the river, whether you are swimming or in a boat &, if in a boat, how quickly you can respond. The faster the flow, the wider the zone.
Every so often some unfortunate dies in one of these sluices, yet still nothing is done & it is swept under the carpet. In the early '90s, after yet another such death (a kayaker at Romney sluices, Windsor) I & the commodore of Royal Canoe Club met with senior officers of the then National Rivers Authority to explore, so we'd thought, measures to guard sluices to save such needless loss of life. We explained our proposals in detail - floating booms (similar to those used at HRR) onto which those in trouble could haul out. They said it would be "too costly". When asked the priority they placed on the preservation of human life they responded that that was a "political" question which they would not answer. We were promised there was an imminent review of river safety & we would be kept informed - but it never happened. Our time was cynically wasted & it was made plain that there was no intention to do anything about sluice hazards.
When I approached the ARA for assistance in our representations to the NRA, we were simply ignored (so no surprises there!)
The Thames is a highway, an historic "navigation". Were you to dig a hole in a road highway, leave it unguarded save for a warning sign & fill it with water or sharp spikes to ensure the death of anyone who fell into it, you would be liable at law for the consequences of your action. At present the EA acts as if it is untouchable over the evident dangers of sluices, so does nothing even to consider or discuss guarding them. It says this would be too costly, yet provides no costs. And it does have boom guards upstream of a few sluices, giving the lie to its claim that this can't be done. And many dangerous sluices could have boom guards permanently installed for no more than what Henley Royal Regatta spends each year on piling & other course installations.
[It is historically unfortunate that the Thames sluices were designed & installed under the direction of a fine engineer, Cornelius van Beesten, at least one member of whose family remains (or remained until recently) on management staff. I sensed that questioning the safety of these sluices is - like swearing in a cathedral or challenging an article of faith - unacceptable.]
The problem is not that such protection is either difficult or costly to install or maintain, but that EA investment is severely constrained & top management contains too many with no understanding of river flows, no real concern for river safety but excellent office-political skills. To them the easiest way to deal with what they know in reality to be their problem is to red-board (close) the river. The ARA & affected rowers being suckers enough to accept, to act powerless & to do nothing, rowing hardly deserves better.
Yes, in recent years we have had more extremes, from drought to flood, than normal. Winter of 2000-2001 was marked by long periods of heavy flow (which drove away an influx of would-be rowers, inspired by Sydney results). Winter of 2001-2002 saw 50-year record Thames floods below Windsor - although these were largely due to the short-sighted installation of the Jubilee river to divert the winter rains, which always used to fill the Maidenhead flood plain. And this winter the river has been red-boarded for most of the last 3 months.
With regard to the Jubilee River:
Flood plains are essential self-regulating features of rivers in flattish terrain. The Maidenhead flood plain used to absorb & then gently release the extremes of spring flows, saving regions downstream from flooding. Then housing development was foolishly allowed to fill that flood plain. When floods came back, the new, affluent Maidenhead residents found themselves getting wet. They hated that, so they lobbied all & sundry for a flood relief scheme, which would never have been needed otherwise. The result was the Jubilee river, & ineptly-built & porous white elephant which hastens flood flows past Maidenhead & discharges them below Windsor. As a result, flows which used to linger on the flood plain for weeks are sped through in a day. So no surprise these unimpeded flows flooded the confined Wraysbury to Twickenham stretch, causing major flooding & damage.
After the January 2002 floods, the EA held local "consultation" meetings. Flood-damaged residents seeking explanations & apologies for what everyone knew was the cause of their losses were appalled to find that the EA had hired bouncers to protect them at these meetings. When I got into private discussions with edgy EA engineers, who eventually admitted that the Jubilee was indeed a crass project & the cause of the problems, our discussions were broken up by a EA top manager who attempted to bullshit me, then admitted he knew nothing of hydrology but still claimed that their river models had shown there was no possible connection between the floods & the Jubilee & that their river model predict the flood levels to within 40mm. When I pointed out that during the floods the EA had near the peak of the floods shown themselves clueless as to how high the floods might rise, predicting first an immediate drop in levels and then warning of a further 1 foot rise, he quit the discussion. He never did supply me with the promised supplementary data to validate his assertions. The whole consultation process was an exercise in cynical self-exculpation. We await the next floods.
I hope that increases your insight into the red-board issue?
Finally: following the death of about 1 dozen soldiers in the Cromwell sluices on the Trent, maybe 25 years ago, the NRA mandated upstream guarding of all sluices except, at that time, those in the Thames region which then fell under the original Thames Conservancy management. The TC felt no obligation to follow the NRA at that time, & when absorbed into the NRA, it still ignored the mandate & does so to this day.
Carl Douglas Racing Shells -
Fine Small-Boats/AeRoWing low-drag Riggers/Advanced Accessories
Write: The Boathouse, Timsway, Chertsey Lane, Staines TW18 3JY, UK
Email: carl@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Tel: +44(0)1784-456344 Fax: -466550
URLs: www.carldouglas.co.uk (boats) & www.aerowing.co.uk (riggers)
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