The Conwy is one of the UK's classic white water rivers, a section of which, the Fairy Glen, being one of the best and most reliable grade 4+ to 5 sections we have on this island. It is now under threat.
Paddlers travel from far and wide to paddle 'The Glen' - here's America's Erik Boomer being shown the lines by local hero Tom McLay and Devon's Tom Rainey
If you've not heard about this, then please take a look at the campaign website www.savetheconwy.com. In summary, RWE NPower are proposing to put in a two metre weir by the take out of Middle Conwy (above Conwy Falls). This will create a pool at normal flows, and is expected to back up into the last rapid of the Middle (or the best rapid of the Middle). The weir will be used to extract up to 75% of the Conwy's flow into a tunnel and pipe which will be taken through neighbouring ancient woodlands and SSSIs until it is reunited with the river downstream of the confluence with the Lledr. This will result in far less water making it into the Fairy Glen.
But it'll generate power, that's good right? If they are prepared to destroy a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and risk the economic affects of loss of tourism to the area (to mention just a couple of adverse affects), surely the scheme will at least generate a lot of power? Sadly not. Even when running at maximum capacity the scheme will only generate 5 Mega Watts - about the same amount used by a small town such as Betws y Coed. The scheme's own designer readily admitted that over certain periods of the year, and certain river levels all year, the scheme would run at just a fraction of it's full potential, or even not generate anything at all! When you compare the proposed output of this scheme to that of the nuclear plant being built on Anglesey, for example, it seems like a drop in the ocean - and surely not worth the destruction. I'll accept that some people will never like the idea of nuclear, but if hydro power is what we really need, there several other viable locations within just a few miles of this site; some of which have even been surveyed and declared viable by the same contracting company!
So why is the scheme even being considered? Put simply: money. Land-owners (in this case the Forestry Commission and Foelas Estate) will earn a lot of money from these sort of schemes; while the Green Subsidy Tax on our energy bills provides most of the money for the initial construction. RWE NPower will earn vast sums of money, but only if the scheme goes ahead. It is in their interest to present 'studies' that make the site seem perfectly suitable.
Why is this so important? Well, it's not just kayaking that will be lost (an estimated 42% loss in days when the Fairy Glen will be paddleable). There are many rare species at risk, local businesses will be affected - especially during the many months of construction works - and the knock on affects on tourism to the valley could be massive. This could be the start of a slippery slope: RWE NPower are also looking at sites on the Mawddach and Gain, amongst other classic Welsh rivers. We need to put a stop to it before it's too late and all of our rivers are piped underground, with delicate ecosystems destroyed in the process.
What can you do? At this stage we mostly need to make people aware of what is happening. Soon RWE NPower will submit a planning permission request and request a water extraction license: this is our chance to raise objections. We may also require letters written to your MP, especially if you live in Wales. The facebook page and website will be kept up to date with this information as it happens and calls to action will be made.
Yours in boating, Lowri (on my way to another dam-endangered whitewater mecca, the White Nile ... but that's another story)