The River Tees is a fantastic river to study as it contains nearly all of the classic river landforms; V shaped valleys and interlocking spurs, waterfalls, floodplains and levees, meanders and ox bow lakes and an estuary at Tees mouth.
It also provides an example of how river basins can be managed against flooding.
River Tees Diagram
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River Tees Catchment factors
Physical (natural Factors)
The River Tees catchment is located in the north east of England. It has three main rivers, the River Tees, the River Skerne and the River Leven. The River Tees drains the eastern slopes of Cross Fell in the Pennines and flows eastward to the North Sea. The length of the channel from source to sea is approximately 160 kilometres. The River Tees rises on the slopes of Cross Fell at a height of 893metres. The area receives over 2,000 millimetres of rain each year. The rainfall reaches the river quickly because the slopes are steep and very little water can infiltrate due to the impermeable rocks and saturated peat. After heavy rainfall or when the snow melts in the spring the river level can rise quickly and the water also flows downstream quickly. This can cause the ‘Tees roll’ or ‘Tees wave’, when the river level may rise as much as a metre in 15 minutes. There is a long history of flooding along the River Tees, especially in its lower course.
The catchment has areas with distinctly different characteristics. The rivers in the Upper Tees have steep channel gradients and valley sides. In the mid-catchment, the valley widens out and channel slopes become much gentler. The lower catchment is close to sea level and predominantly tidal in nature.
The Tees Barrage forms an artificial barrier between the Tees Estuary and the upstream catchment. This helps maintain water levels for amenity purposes and eliminates tidal effects further upstream. Land use in the west of the area is mainly moorland and pasture. On the lower slopes and middle catchment the land use changes to a greater amount of pasture and woodland.
To the east land use is mainly arable farmland interspersed with large built up areas, including Middlesbrough and Stockton-on-Tees. Approximately 687,000 people live within the catchment area concentrated in the main towns of Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, and Stockton-on-Tees. There are also large industrial areas such as the ICI chemical works. Flood damage can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. There is also a huge demand for water for use in homes, industry and agriculture.
Flood events along the River Tees
“The Tees catchment has a long history of flooding with reported flooding dating back over 400 years. Over the years, a number of engineering schemes have been implemented to reduce the risk of flooding in the catchment. At present over 9,600 properties including some key infrastructure buildings are at risk of flooding (not taking into account defences) during the one per cent flood event. In the future due to climate change this number is expected to increase to 11,230.”
David Dangerfield, Director – Yorkshire and North East
Environment Agency Tees Catchment Flood Management Plan
|Flood Hydrograph for Baranard Castle in 1995||Flooding in Yarm in 1995|
On the night of 16/17th November 1771 the North East of England suffered some of the worst and most destructive flooding on record. The river Tees burst its banks in a number of places with Yarm being one of the areas worst affected. At the height of the flood some stretches of Yarm High Street were submerged in 20 feet of water.
The floods were caused by a sudden thaw of the ice in upper Teesdale, and a cloud burst over the Pennines. The rain began in the early hours of Saturday morning and continued heavily throughout the day and night without a break. On the main street alone, six houses were completely destroyed and many more left uninhabitable. The Shambles was washed away and the town’s main church was also damaged. ‘The pews were upturned and tossed about, the pulpit was overturned and several windows were shattered’. Nine of the townspeople lost their lives in the floods. In one home alone where three people were staying, two drowned, and one survived by hanging from the top of a window for nineteen hours with floodwater up to his chin.
The river flooded again in 1995 and 2015. Within the Tees catchment the main consequences of flooding occur in the urban areas of the catchment. In total there are almost 8,500 residential properties and over 1,200 commercial properties at risk of flooding. This means almost three per cent of the catchment population is at risk from the one per cent flood event.This means that flood management is definitely needed in this catchment
Properties at risk of flooding on River Tees
Flood Management along the Tees
The Flood defence scheme in Yarm
Since the 1995 flood event a new flood defence scheme costing £2.1 million has been built. They have also used improved flood warning systems which liaise with the Meteorological Office, police and other emergency services. New development has discouraged building on low-lying and flood-prone land (land is used for activities not damaged by inundation e.g. playing fields, parks, urban forests/walks etc.)
In the Yarm area the Environment Agency have;
Put in Reinforced concrete walls with metal flood gates for access by people and vehicles
Used Earth Embankments
Put in Gabions to protect walls and embankments from erosion Included Fishing platforms, street lighting and replanting to improve the environment Kept building materials in keeping with existing architecture
Cow Green Reservoir
Cow Green reservoir was built in 1970 to provide water for the growing industries on Teesside. It is a regulating reservoir, storing water in times of plenty and releasing enough for the needs of industry in times of low flow. It can hold back water during times of flood.