Many Rivers to Cross

By Kelly, Martyn | The Independent (London, England), June 17, 1996 | Go to article overview
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Many Rivers to Cross


Kelly, Martyn, The Independent (London, England)


Last summer, the people of north-east England saw a whiteelephantfinally change into a useful beast of burden. While their neighbours to the south and west - not to mention most of central and southern England - suffered drought orders, the lawns of Northumbria remained lush and green. The reason? Kielder Water, the largest reservoir in Europe, plus a pipeline that enables water from Kielder to be pumped to rivers in the region.

"At the time it was completed it was seen as a white elephant because the industrial expansion of Teesside, whose demand it was built to meet, never materialised," explains Andrew Panting of Northumbria Water. "I think it is fair to say that for the first eight years, through to about 1990, it wasn't used a great deal. Since then it has really come into its own, being used more each year than the previous one, to the point at which last year it was playing a vital role in keeping the rivers Tyne, Derwent and Wear topped up. If we hadn't had Kielder Water then, the situation in the North-east would have been potentially worse than that in Yorkshire."

Even at the end of the summer, Kielder Water, with a capacity of 200 billion litres, was still almost 80 per cent full. This compared with only 11 per cent in some of the worst affected reservoirs of West Yorkshire.

Not surprisingly, then, Yorkshire Water spent much of last summer casting wistful glances towards their friends in the North. They spent pounds 27m bringing in tankerloads of water - 300 a day at the peak - from Teesside. This year they plan to go one step further by building a permanent pipeline to take water from the River Tees, near Darlington, 13km to the river Wiske, a tributary of the Swale. From there it will flow down the rivers Swale, Ure and Ouse and through another 23km of new pipes to a water treatment centre near York before arriving in the Yorkshire water mains.

By the time the water arrives in York it will have travelled in three separate river systems: the North Tyne, Tees and Swale-Ouse. Working out exactly what impact this will have on each river is not easy. "There has been remarkably little written on water transfers," comments Chris Gibbons of the University of Northumbria, who recently completed a PhD on the ecological effects of the Kielder scheme. "There seem to be a lot of hurried proposals for transfers now and next to no pre-impact studies at all."

Generalisations about the effect of transfers are difficult. "It all depends upon the differences between the donor system and the receiving system," Gibbon explains. His own studies showed that the effects of releases of Kielder water on the River Wear were slight because the two rivers are, chemically, very similar. "The water quality issues are more related to the sorts of changes that occur within the transfer tunnel," he explains.

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