United Utilities facing legal action over floods

United Utilities (UU) is facing mass legal action as a result of November's floods in Cumbria. The Cambrian legal firm KJ Commons & Co is acting for clients who believe they have a valid claim against UU. The action has come to light following concern over United Utilities' operation of Thirlmere Reservoir.

Cockermouth sits at the confluence of two rivers, The Cocker, fed by Crummock Water and Buttermere, and the Derwent, fed by Derwent Water/Bassenthwaite and by the rivers Glenderamackin/Greta, which are in turn fed by a tributary, St John's Beck, which is the outflow from
Thirlmere Reservoir.

The law firm questions UU's management of the reservoir, and says that it should have foreseen the heavy rainfall and lowered water levels in advance. In a letter to UU, the operation of the reservoir during the floods is called into question.

However, this view is not taken by UU, which put November's flooding down to freak unforeseeable weather conditions. A UU spokesperson said: "The flooding in Cumbria during November was caused by an exceptional rainfall event, not the management of Thirlmere Reservoir. The reservoir has always been and continues to be managed in consultation with local stakeholders, including Keswick Flood Action Group."

KJ Commons & Co points out that late autumn was characterised by a weather pattern that drew warm, moist air to the North-west from The Azores. Substantial precipitation resulted as it cooled over the Cumbrian Mountains. They state that the weather pattern was well established and extremely heavy rain was foreseeable and had been forecast.

The law firm says that despite these facts the reservoir had been so high that it had been overflowing its spillway from 27 October. Also on the day of the inundation of Keswick and West Cumbria, the main abstraction from the reservoir into the aqueduct supplying Manchester was shut to protect drinking water and public health. The law firm adds that its letter should be seen as "notification that the management of the water resources at Thirlmere and elsewhere is under close examination, with a view to proceedings being commenced for compensation".

United Utilities has pointed out that statements made in December's WWT regarding the role of Thirlmere Reservoir in the recent floods in Cumbria may have been misleading. WWT in no way intended to suggest that Thirlmere was solely responsible for the flooding seen in Keswick and other parts of Cumbria in November.

United Utilities chief executive, Philip Green, had explained that Thirlmere had been overwhelmed with rainfall and had overspilled. UU says that this should not be understood to mean that the overspill was the cause of the flooding as it only accounted for a fraction of the water which made its way into Keswick.

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