River survey commissioned

Colin LawsonNews

All quiet on the Wear in May 2020

On behalf of the main users of the river Wear in Durham, Durham Regatta has commissioned a survey of the river for the purpose of establishing a long term maintenance plan in conjunction with the Environment Agency. The Regatta is grateful for the commitment of Durham University (40%), Durham County Council (40%), Durham Amateur Rowing Club (10%) and Durham Regatta (10%) towards the survey and consultancy costs of roughly £25k.

Agreement has been reached with JBA Consulting Engineers and Scientists Limited who will provide a Water Framework Directive (WFD) assessment in accordance with Environment Agency requirements.

Earlier this year the consultants met with the Environment Agency and subsequently with representatives of the Regatta to finalise the terms of the consultancy. The survey is expected to be completed and a final report delivered by August 2020. Any dredging work that may be advised and permitted by the Environment Agency consequent on the consultancy is very unlikely to take place before 2021 and would certainly require additional funds for it to be undertaken.

The survey will involve examination of river bed levels over a reach of approximately 1.7km and gravel sampling over 5m grids along this length for subsequent contamination testing.

Geomorphological and ecological assessments are required to assist the development of an appropriate update to the existing Gravel Management Plan (GMP) on the River Wear. The revised plan will identify local measures which will appropriately manage the existing sedimentation issues.

A geomorphology and ecology appraisal of the updated GMP and proposed sediment removal strategy will subsequently be undertaken to identify any impacts posed to the water environment, including the downstream sediment budget and in-channel ecological conditions. The appraisals will consider the longevity of the proposed gravel removal, since regular gravel maintenance is anticipated to be required.

The appraisals of the proposed scheme will feed into a WFD Compliance Assessment. A WFD assessment is required to determine the impacts of proposed works on the conditions and biological, physical and chemical components of the River Wear. WFD is a desk-based assessment which relies on information given of the status of the watercourse as detailed within the relevant River Basin Management Plan (RBMP). A single WFD report will be produced, detailing any necessary mitigation measures, aiming to provide a net WFD benefit within the watercourse.

Some elements of the study need to be undertaken at appropriate seasons, and with this in mind the consultants propose to undertake the combined ecological and geomorphological survey during May, followed by bathymetric and topographic surveys in July 2020. The Regatta is in agreement with the proposal given that it has taken several years to reach this stage, is mindful of continuing sedimentation and considers that it would be unwise to forego the opportunity and delay the process by at least a further year.

Bathymetric survey

A Durham ARC article relating to ongoing flooding and silting issues following Storm Desmond in 2015 provides further insight.

The existing GMP allows for some movement of sediment but doesn’t permit the removal of material from the river, and no dredging has been possible since 2014.

Continual flooding and sedimentation has blighted rowing on the Wear and in recent years the need to satisfy the requirements of new legislation has compounded the problem to such an extent that the management of regattas has become increasingly difficult. Any action that will alleviate the situation is welcomed and this agreement gives rise to cautious optimism.