Four years of review, lobbying and hard work pay off

On 17th October, the Environment Agency (EA) Board agreed new flow standards for its Hydropower Good Practice Guidelines (GPGs), following nearly four years of a review process in which the Salmon & Trout Association (S&TA) was closely involved, alongside colleagues from the Angling Trust.

The new proposals start from a more precautionary baseline than the original GPGs, using the Catchment Abstraction Management Strategies Environmental Flow Indicators (CAMS/EFI). If applied correctively, these should ensure sufficient flow to avoid depleted reaches below hydro schemes, and attract fish to migrate over weirs. It will also provide flow variability, vital for the ecological health of all rivers.

Added to this, applicants for new hydro schemes must provide evidence if they wish to increase abstraction beyond the baseline level, showing that the scheme will:

  • not prevent the local achievement of EU Water Framework Directive objectives for good ecological status in all rivers;
  • maintain and improve fisheries and fish passage;
  • not adversely impact protected sites or species;
  • not have unacceptable impacts on the rights of other water users.

S&TA’s Head of Science, Janina Gray, who was involved throughout the review process on the EA steering and technical groups, said, "S&TA broadly welcomes the proposals, but we remain concerned that it is still unclear how the cumulative impacts of multiple schemes on a single river will be considered, without the presence of strategic catchment management plans.

"We are also disappointed that the standards for on-weir schemes were relaxed before the EA’s own commissioned work on weir pools was completed. This lack of evidence based decision making remains a frustration, and is an issue we will be monitoring very closely to ensure that standards are applied correctly and sufficient evidence is provided by developers".

S&TA’s CEO, Paul Knight, said, "We believe that barriers should be removed from rivers wherever possible (so enhancing natural river dynamics by improved longitudinal connectivity), rather than establishing hydropower schemes, which we still consider will provide very limited local renewable energy. In order for the EA to achieve objectives under EU environmental legislation, it must take a catchment overview to managing river systems, coordinating hydropower with all the other stressors which could potentially limit a river’s ability to achieve good ecological status."

Janina Gray added, "Efficient monitoring of all hydropower schemes by the EA will be essential, as will scrutiny of the environmental impact assessments by developers which must focus on potential impact on the water environment and its dependent wildlife. This requires more resources than we believe are currently available within the EA, and therefore the fee for submitting applications must be substantially increased to recoup more EA staff time costs.

"We hope that the new, higher standards will reduce the potential impact of this industry on river systems, and that protection of the water environment is the top priority when processing new applications and monitoring existing schemes."