Abstraction and Impoundment Licence

By 26th April 2016March 14th, 2017Save the Conwy

Save the Conwy has heard that NRW’s decision on the licencing of the Conwy hydro scheme will be decided shortly. We have sent a final letter asking NRW whether they have addressed, what we feel to be, the most important questions asked by this application. See the letter in full below and attached as a Pdf:

Save the Conwy NRW letter


Dear NRW

RWE Innogy UK Limited application for a full licence to abstract water from the Afon Conwy near Betws-y-Coed,  Conwy at National Grid Reference SH 81139 53409                                                           
Ref N# WPCC3508 and WPCC3510

We understand the decision on the abstraction and impoundment licence for the proposed RWE hydroscheme on the Afon Conwy is to be decided on April 29th. We appreciate the time that has been taken investigating the application and hope that means that the following questions have been suitably answered.


  1. How does the installation of a new low head dam / weir on a main lowland river (<10%) in gradient which is currently entirely free flowing fit with published NRW policy? Licensing guidelines state any scheme requiring the building of a new weir on a lowland river will not be licensed



  1. Have the effects on the geomorphology of the river been fully mitigated against? Sediment transfer on a river containing spawning beds for migratory fish is critically important. The method of maintaining sediment transfer for the proposed hydro scheme as listed in the EIA is:

…..Impacts on substrates are monitored carefully, and if necessary, substrates trapped upstream of the weir should be periodically excavated with machinery and replaced immediately downstream of the weir to help reinstate some continuity of substrate movement. ….(EIA Non-technical summary 129)

Does NRW consider this to be appropriate / acceptable?


  1. How can this scheme be considered when the outflow is in immediate proximity to habitat known to support European protected species including Lamprey and Fresh Water Pearl Mussels.

An EA Pearl Mussel survey from 2005/2006 removed mussels to a hatchery proving the area is suitable for pearl mussels

RWE found mussels during the EIA survey

Two adult Margaritifera margaritifera were found downstream of the Fairy Glen bridge, in the same location as the 2005 survey found a bed of 12 mussels that were removed by EA (EIA Technical Appendices 9-2)

A video of Lampreys taken at Blue Pool, close to the site of the proposed outflow.



  1. Have the safety implications of building a low head dam / weir on a heavily used section of recreational white water been adequately considered given NRW’s responsibility to existing water users? NRW are surely the body responsible for the safety of this structure (if not have the plans been passed to a body who is). NRW has been supplied with two separate reports from water safety experts and a letter of concern from Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue, the agency concerned with dealing with any potential incident in this area.


  1. Is NRW confident on the evidence being used to allow an application on a zone 2 basis. SSSI sites should be treated as zone 1. The developer commissioned report on the Ravine Bryophytes responsible for the SSSI status did not cover the “Ravine” sections of the river at water level due to lack of access. This led to an incomplete assessment. It is also noted that the conclusion of the specialists report was not included in the EIA

 Dr Des Callaghan – “With regards to the Conwy Falls scheme, I do not believe that it is possible to say with any certainty whether the scheme will or will not have a significant negative effect on bryophytes.” (Personal communication to Snowdonia Society.)


  1. Is NRW confident that the variable abstraction regime applied for is actually equivalent to the permitted standard abstraction rate? By applying for a higher rate in the winter when water levels are high and a lower rate in the summer RWE are effectively asking for more water when then levels are high enough and lower levels when the river would be too low to abstract from anyway. Has NRW been able to prove equivalence using its’ own Hydrologist and flow data?


  1. A large part of the justification for the scheme relies on the Machno providing a “mitigating flow” to the abstraction. Has NRW independently verified that flow rates in the Machno are high enough for this to be the case in all circumstances? There are concerns that when the abstraction will have the greatest impact; winter months with low flows in the Conwy between around 1 and 8 cumecs that, when flows are dropping a day or so after rain, the volume of water from the Machno is insignificant compared to that of the Conwy due to its flasher catchment.


  1. Is NRW confident that a variable abstraction licence will be adhered to given the poor reputation of RWE when it comes to both environmental protection and financial conduct?

The full scale of environmental concerns in Europe about the £1bn (RWE) power station in Pembrokeshire were revealed today. A leaked document from the European Commission says there has been a ‘history of failures’ in applying European environmental rules over the Pembroke plant.

If this is not the case will NRW be able to police such a licence (one that cannot be verified by the finished structure of the weir) given the problems it has had with policing abstraction licences in the past, see report on this based on an FOI request at the link below:



  1. NRW has a responsibility to maintain and improve the status of rivers under the WFD and having rivers of high WFD status has been shown to have a hugely beneficial effect on both environments and communities. As the Conwy has a status of good but the area to be affected by the development is most likely excellent can there be a guarantee that the overall status of the river will not be degraded by the proposed scheme?


  1. The fairy glen is considered one of the most important stretches of white water in the UK and is the “jewel in the crown” of Snowdonia’s rivers. The proposed abstraction will have a massive impact on the existing well established use of this river during the flow rates suitable for kayaking (1.25 to 2.0 on the Cwmlanerch gauge) especially during the most popular months for kayaking Nov – March. How does this fit with NRWs policy of

More people participating in and benefitting from outdoor recreation more often


and with the Welsh Government policy of promoting 2016 as its “Year of Adventure”.


  1. Has the effect of the proposed impoundment at the weir pool been fully considered? There are serious concerns raised by Gillespies (a landscape planning consultant) that the impoundment pool could result in variable water levels causing a drawdown scar and lead to further long term loss of trees in the impoundment area due to permanent water logging of roots. These trees are in an area registered as ancient woodland.


Yours Faithfully

Dan Yates