Many rivers to cross

Using reservoirs to supplement rivers is now a necessity. But what is the environmental impact of water that has travelled in several river systems? Martyn Kelly reports

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. "Quite often water stands for a long period of time in the transfer tunnel and, when it is released, it is relatively low in dissolved oxygen."

Deoxygenated water can be fatal for fish and other animals in the river, so it is important that weirs, and other means to re-aerate the water are provided before it enters the river. However, Gibbons goes on to explain that these changes were relatively short-lived in the Wear and had disappeared a few hundred metres downstream of the discharge.

Other problems that need to be taken into account are the transfer of new pests and diseases. Zander, an aggressive, alien fish, loathed by coarse fishermen, was able to spread through an earlier scheme that linked rivers in East Anglia. And, in 1989, a chemical spill in the River Tyne was accidentally transferred, thanks to the Kielder Scheme, to other rivers - and water-treatment works - in the region and about 100,000 households were supplied with drinking water that had a distinct odour of TCP.

Yorkshire Water and the Environment Agency are both quick to point out that plans to transfer water between the Tees and the Wiske (and, consequently, for the Tees to be supplemented by Kielder) are only likely to be used in an emergency. However, the greater distance between the Tyne and Tees will mean that water spends more time in the pipes and will, potentially, be more severely deoxygenated than is the case for discharges to the Wear. Add to this the potential need for larger volumes of water to be transferred and the impact on the otherwise pristine upper reaches of the Tees could be more serious than Gibbons observed on the Wear.

The next stage of the journey, however, might even have a positive environmental impact. Yorkshire Water will abstract high-quality water from the Tees from a stretch just upstream of Darlington and pump it into a river which, an Environmental Agency spokeswoman commented wryly, leaves a lot to be desired in water-quality terms. The net effect might be an overall improvement in chemical terms, due to dilution of river Wiske water by river Tees water. The ability of a small North Yorkshire stream to cope with such an increase in flow is a question that Environment Agency staff will be asking Yorkshire Water to answer before giving the final go-ahead.

A closing irony is that plans to extend the Kielder transfer scheme to the Swale were first proposed in the Seventies, but were blocked by Parliament on the grounds that the then water authorities should get their water from within their own regions. Had it gone ahead at the time, many of the changes that Yorkshire Water have had to make in the past few months would already have been in place. It is probably small comfort to Yorkshire Water to know that it is not the only one to blame for its current misfortunes.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey
film
Sport
Bafetibis Gomis of Swansea City is stretchered off at White Hart Lane
football
News
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
Sport
footballLouis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
News
The spider makes its break for freedom
VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
people
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Life and Style
love + sex
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accountant - ACCA, ACA or ACMA - Construction Sector

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Accountant (ACCA, ...

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executive - PR and Broadcast - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has an exciting op...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor - Shifts

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This European market leader for security...

Recruitment Genius: Freelance AutoCAD Technician

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Freelance AutoCAD Technician is required to ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot