Reservoir safety emergency on-site flood plans consultation

Closed 17 Aug 2020

Opened 16 Jun 2020



In a written statement to Parliament on 16 March 2020 the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs stated that the government would consult on making a requirement for all large raised reservoirs (registered reservoirs) to have an emergency contingency plan (also known as an on-site flood plan) in place. The government considers such plans essential for maintaining public safety, and is considering making the requirement for such plans a legal obligation in England. This consultation covers England only.

On-site flood plans are designed to manage any risk posed that may result in an uncontrolled release of water from a reservoir that would, or might, cause flooding to the surrounding area and communities. Plans should include information on key contacts and the actions the reservoir undertaker (owner or operator), or their staff, would take on site to prevent, control or mitigate such a release. Plans should be informed by Reservoir Flood Risk maps and complemented by local emergency plans to ensure preparedness for reservoir flood risks.

The government recognises that there are different types of reservoir, and that emergency plans will need to be unique to each reservoir and how it is operated. The purpose of this consultation is to help ensure that any new requirements to have an on-site flood plan for large raised reservoirs are proportionate to the type and classification of a reservoir and the likely impact of flood risk from a breach. The consultation also seeks views on training to support emergency planning and incident response for reservoir incidents.

This consultation does not specifically cover emergency community evacuation (off-site) flood plans which are held by emergency responders e.g. Local Resilience Forums, but recognises both plans will need to complement each other.

The consultation has been extended from 10 August to 17 August. Responses can be made up until 11.50pm on 17 August

Why your views matter

We have an excellent reservoir safety record in the UK, and incidents like the spillway failure at Toddbrook Reservoir in August 2019 are rare. Swift action when the incident occurred was aided by the fact that both an on-site flood plan and a local flood evacuation plan were available and quickly activated.

Following on from that incident, Defra and the Environment Agency issued a survey to reservoir owners in England which sought information to gauge the state of emergency preparedness more generally for reservoirs regarding on-site flood plans.

Findings from the survey [attached below] indicate a large proportion of large raised reservoirs already have on-site plans,  but there are many that do not. We consider this position is not acceptable for public safety and are therefore considering making it a statutory requirement for all reservoirs regulated under the Reservoirs Act 1975 to have, and maintain, on-site flood plans.

The incident at Toddbrook Reservoir demonstrated the value of having emergency plans in place that can be activated quickly. The Government considers that reservoir on-site flood plans are essential for public safety and reassurance that critical infrastructure is being responsibly managed. Under current legislation there is a requirement for details of on-site flood plans to be recorded where they are in place. This requirement implies a strong presumption that large raised reservoirs do have a flood plan, but stops short of making it a legal obligation.

The Reservoirs Act 1975 makes provision for the Secretary of State to make a Ministerial Direction[1] to require reservoir undertakers to have flood plans. In order to make a Ministerial Direction, the Reservoirs Act 1975 requires the Secretary of State to consult the reservoir undertakers (owners and operators) concerned, the Environment Agency, local authorities in whose area the reservoir is situated, emergency services in whose area the reservoir is situated and others as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.

In this instance a Ministerial Direction is proposed to be made later in 2020/21. The mechanism for this will be a notice sent to reservoir undertakers who are on the public register held by the Environment Agency. A Direction would cover all of the large raised reservoirs for which an undertaker is responsible. We expect that a Direction would explain the key information that must be in a plan, and the information that can be shared. Plans would be expected to be prepared in consultation with a reservoir Engineer. For High Risk reservoirs this means the Supervising Engineer and for other large raised reservoirs a qualified civil Engineer (ie a reservoir panel engineer) engaged for this purpose.

The flood plans would need to be filed with the Environment Agency, together with certification from the reservoir Engineer that the requirements of the Ministerial Direction are satisfied.

The Direction would set out how the plan should be filed with the Environment Agency, and the information in the plan which needs to be shared with Local Resilience Forums and local authorities. In principle the information likely to be shared would be similar to the summary information described in the 2013 Regulations[2] known as the “prescribed form of record” for a flood plan.

This consultation seeks views on:

  • managing and maintaining a flood plan
  • how frequently a flood plan should be tested
  • updating guidance about preparing a flood plan

training that may be needed to support emergency planning and incident response


[1] See sections 12A-12B of the Reservoirs Act 1975, as amended by the Water Act 2003 and the Flood and Water Management Act 2010

[2] The Reservoirs Act 1975 (Capacity, Registration, Prescribed Forms, etc.) (England) Regulations 2013

What happens next

This consultation has now closed. We would like to thank everyone who has provided views.

Defra will use the information from this consultation to inform a Ministerial Direction to reservoir undertakers about requiring them to have an emergency on-site flood plan for their reservoirs, and to work with stakeholders to help shape and develop appropriate training to support incident prevention, incident management and flood risk planning regarding reservoirs.


  • Charities/Voluntary Organisations
  • Industries and professional services
  • Water/water Industry sector
  • Water Abstractors
  • Local Authorities
  • Business/Private Sector
  • Landowners and their representative bodies
  • Water suppliers
  • Leisure industry


  • Flood emergency
  • Local environments
  • Water Abstraction
  • Inland waterways
  • Watercourse maintenance
  • Rural economy and communities
  • Nature reserves
  • Recreational sector