Would you pay £300 million in response to a theoretical claim that
freshwater mussels might suffer in a drought year? Well if you live in
Cumbria you will soon have to make that payment. United Utilities are
claiming that an EU directive to protect the freshwater mussels in the
River Ehen means a massive pipeline has to be built across the Lakes from
Thirlmere to supply all of West Cumbria's water. United Utilities are
now (2020) building the UK's biggest integrated water supply pipeline
through the heart of the Lake District.
The £300 million project, which may also alter the shorelines of
both Crummock and Ennerdale lakes has been launched because of a perceived
threat to the long term viability of around half a million freshwater
Utilities wanted to build a 25 mile long pipeline to take water from Thirlmere
reservoir, past Keswick and Bassenthwaite and out to West Cumbria.
North West water consumers will have to pay for the £300 million
project to dig a water pipeline through the Lake District. The aqueduct
is proposed to take water from Thirlmere all the way past Keswick to West
Cumbria, even though Ennerdale & Crummock have been used as water
supply for several decades.
And the reason for this huge expenditure? Beds of freshwater mussels in
the River Ehen, which flows from Ennerdale. The freshwater mussels in
the River Ehen, have been coping for the past few millennia with varying
river levels, but the Environment Agency has declared the mussels in need
of protection and now decided one of the main water supplies for West
Cumbria (Ennerdale Lake) should close to make the mussels happier.
Similar mussel colonies in Northern Ireland and Scotland have also
been described as 'under threat' by the same ecologists, yet these colonies
are not associated with any reservoirs so the likely cause of any theoretical
decline is some other factor. See Wikipedia for details of the existence
of freshwater mussels across Europe and North America.
Some of the research that claims the mussels are under threat.
As a consequence of the withdrawal of the Environment Agency licence to
use Ennerdale Lake by 2020 United Utilities say they will have to lay
a huge water pipeline all the way from Thirlmere to West Cumbria and build
new treatment works near Cockermouth. They have also laid another pipeline
to help the mussels in the near term by pumping water uphill from boreholes
at Egremont to Ennerdale. This project has prompted a vigorous campaign
from households hit by the changed supply.
A relatively new treatment works at Ennerdale will also be closed. The
government called for a public inquiry into the water company plans and
at Workington on September 16 and 17 2014 appointed inspector, Mr Stephen
Roscoe to consider the plans. He cross examined the various experts on
the proposals. He then (December 10 2014) waved the plans through despite
the various concerns.
The hearing heard that the water company plans to stop using Crummock
and Ennerdale lakes as water supplies. This will mean the weirs on both
lakes would be removed and this could affect the shoreline on both lakes.
The hearing also heard one of the ecological experts admit that the predictions
of whether the mussel beds would benefit from the proposed changes were
"not an exact science." The only glimmer of common sense from
the planning process was that plans for a water desalination plant at
Workington to convert seawater to drinking water was judged too expensive!
As the final planning application was approved by Allerdale Council (November
2016), residents are slowly waking up to the absurdity.
One objector from Papcastle rightly informed Allerdale that "The
EU directive does not require or intend action based on a small theoretical
risk, it has been misinterpreted. The most that could be required by a
proper interpretation of the EU directive is a revision to the requirements
for minimum flow in the River Ehen during a drought order to match the
directive wording about overriding human need, while retaining the abstraction
licence for use in normal circumstances or emergencies."
In the real world the million strong mussel colony has coped for centuries
with drought and flood down the River Ehen.
There are other freshwater mussel populations in Northern Ireland and
Scotland and there are approximately 900 species worldwide.
Similar mussel beds occur in the River Irt, in Scotland and in the
Sperrin mountains of Northern Ireland.
Read of the Black Pearls once a Victorian
In August 2017: These same mussels even seem to have
their own Public Relations team working on their behalf. The Keswick based
Pearls in Peril Project has issued glossy leaflets claiming in true tabloid
headline style: "An iconic and vital species is at critical risk
of extinction". This is despite the fact that freshwater mussels
are endemic across Europe and North America, so quite what the extinction
threat is remains a mystery.
Local MP and Facebook campaigns went viral after households forced to
take hard water from boreholes as part of the absurd claims to help freshwater
mussels. United Utilities spend ratepayers cash on laying pipeline for
borehole water pumped uphill to Ennerdale treatment plant to add to normal
information on the United Utilities website.