IT WAS five years ago that United Utilities, which owns the Thirlmere reservoir (above), was first asked to lower the water level during the Autumn so that there was additional capacity to hold the winter rains coming off the Lake District Fells.
The private company refused to do so, claiming that its priority was to keep the reservoir full to the brim so that it could provide the necessary water to meet the needs of 300,000 homes in Greater Manchester.
Back in 2005, both Keswick and Cockermouth were flooded because when the above average rainfall filled Thirlmere to over-flowing, the excess water turned the River Greta into a raging torrent.
It was deja vu this November when heavy rainfall caused Thirlmere to overflow yet again. The result this time was that not only were Keswick and Cockermouth flooded again but also the main Northside bridge in Workington was swept away and PC Bill Barker lost his life preventing a major disaster by stopping cars from crossing the bridge.
Again, prior to the disaster, the Thirlmere Reservoir was full to the brim. This time to make the problem worse, work was being carried out on the Manchester aqueduct restricting the amount of water making its way down to the city which meant the reservoir was overflowing even before the heavy rains of November 19th.
If the water level in Thirlmere had been 3 meters below the reservoir wall, as was called for back in 2005, then this disaster wouldn't have happened because the abnormal rainfall would have been easily absorbed.
Critics of United Utilities say the company keeps the water level high so that water can be pumped out to Manchester using the existing equipment. If the water level was to drop, then new, more efficient pumps, would have to be purchased which would eat into the company's profits and its shareholders' returns.
There is no doubt that the high water level in Thirlmere was responsible for the devastation caused in Workington and Cockermouth.
Water levels in the reservoir are the responsibility of United Utilities so the company should be footing the bill for the damage they have caused and making sure that in the future the water level Thirlmere is never over the 3 meters from the top mark.