Welsh Green Dragon


Drainage is well underway at Llanishen Reservoir by Chris Halpin

Video Report by Chris Halpin and Jennie Clark

Llanishen Reservoir Action Group have been campaigning tirelessly for almost ten years to save one of North Cardiff’s largest green spaces from the developers.

In what some campaigners have called a battle of David against Goliath, the action group (or RAG for short), are taking on the reservoirs owners, Western Power Distribution, who want to build hundreds of new houses in its place. Western Power are the UK subsidiary of American firm Pennsylvania Power and Light (PPL), thought to be worth £7.5 billion.

Brief history

Constructed in 1884, Llanishen was part of a network of freshwater reservoirs that brought water down from the Brecon Beacons to be used as drinking water in the ever expanding city of Cardiff.

It ceased to be used for this purpose about 35 years ago, and was sold off by Margaret Thatcher in the eighties when water companies were privatised.

Despite not being used for drinking water now, over the years it has become a valued recreational amenity for walkers, fishermen and aspiring sailors.

However, over the past decade its owners Western Power have gradually restricted access to the public, and soon its final users, Llanishen Sailing Centre, won’t be able to use it either.

Once the water level is too low, about 3 metres below normal, the sailors simply won’t be able to get their boats in and out of the water.

The dispute about draining down

Western Power claim they’re emptying the reservoir in accordance with a survey they had commissioned in 2008. They say they need to inspect underwater pipe work for safety reasons – these pipes lying on the bottom of the reservoir and can only be accessed through drainage, according to the report.

In light of newer evidence and an original copy of the Victorian reservoirs building specification, RAG have since had their own survey commissioned. This says the pipes are not where Western Power maintain, and in fact are encased in concrete underneath the reservoir. RAG are therefore arguing that this completely negates any reason to be draining down the water.

Although Western Power have been denied planning permission for this redevelopment twice, campaigners fear that once the water is drained it will never fully refill, as water levels are only kept stable through rainwater. They are concerned the empty reservoir will become an eyesore, and the council will eventually give in to redevelopment as a lesser of the two evils.

Silt and the threat to Roath Park Lake

Western Power are allowed to drain off the top three metres of water but the Environment Agency say they are monitoring the levels closely to make sure they do not exceed this. If Western Power drain off more than this there is the risk that over a century of underlying silt could be disturbed and enter the Nant Fawr stream, which is where the reservoir’s water is being pumped into. This flows into Roath Park lake and campaigners also fear wildlife there could be affected. The Environment Agency called on Western Power not to empty, but drainage began at the end of February.

Protected Status and Government support

The structure of the reservoir has been listed by CADW as historically important, the banks are protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and the area surrounding it which is owned by Cardiff Council has been made a nature reserve.

Western Power is trying to refute each level of this protected status, and RAG estimates the company have spent around £10 million pounds on legal fees trying to get each of them overturned and appealing the rejected planning applications.

Cardiff Council and the Welsh Assembly are supporting campaigners, with MP for Cardiff North Julie Morgan and Assembly Member Jenny Randerson personally involved. Julie Morgan also recently voiced her frustrations to Welsh Secretary Peter Hain in the House of Commons, which allowed previously confidential information about findings in the engineers surveys to be reported in the press, under parliamentary privilege.

How to join in the campaign

If you want to join the fight to save the reservoir, you can sign the online petition here,  follow regular updates on the Wales Online blog, or discuss it on this forum.

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Really impressive Halps – very professional.

Comment by Dave

Why no mention that this artificial reservoir holds over one million tons of water (capacity: 1.44 million metric tons) atop a hill above hundreds of houses and a school when the primary function of Llanishen reservoir disappeared years ago? The dam holding back a massive tonnage of water is made of dirt (earth).

Only a very small section of the earth dam has to fail – the weight of water will cause the small failure to turn into a larger gap in the dam and the water will gush out on a downhill trajectory – can you imagine what 1.5 million tons of water would do? Mothers with baby prams would be dragged along streets, children would be tossed around like rag dolls. It is too awful to contemplate.

No mention in your ‘news report’ that the artificial reservoir is at 45 m elevation (about 49 yards).

The reservoir action group (RAG) recently admitted in a letter that there is concern about dam failure when (or ‘if’) Llanishen reservoir is refilled, that Llanishen reservoir is a “Category A reservoir. That status has serious implications which mean that lives would be endangered if the reservoir was breached.”

Comment by Dr. Christopher Wood

PS
An earth embankment dam reservoir with 2 million tons of water burst about a year ago in Indonesia: “Indonesian Dam Burst floods hundreds of homes, with 150 people killed or missing”. The earth dam started to leak and quickly failed. The Llanishen reservoir is rated at 1.5 million tons and is at 45 metres elevation (about 49 yards elevation). There are hundreds of houses and a primary/junior school located on the downward facing side of Llanishen reservoir. RAG has recognized that there is a risk of the earth dam at Llanishen reservoir failing if it is refilled. It is intolerable to expose children on the downward facing flank of Llanishen reservoir to such a risk when there is a very easy solution. Llanishen reservoir sits atop a hill – it was built atop a hill to provide water by gravity assist to Cardiff households, but this role stopped some years ago, there is no primary need to hold such a massive tonnage of water at such a height above hundreds of houses and a school – the school was ‘not there’ when Llanishen reservoir was built. Has everyone forgotten Aberfan? Why risk one inside Cardiff?

Comment by Dr. Christopher Wood

Dr Wood, if only we were able to track you down for interview in the piece.

Of course there is considerable risk that if the reservoir is drained then the clay structure could dry out leaving fissures which could compromise its structural integrity. Unfortunately, the ‘news report’ could only be three minutes, and the ongoing saga that is Llanishen could easily make a half hour documentary.

As I’m sure you’re aware Television isn’t necessarily a detail medium, and making claims about potential dam failure would definitely need substantiating on our part.

Unfortunately being student journalists doesn’t always give you the necessary clout to get contributors willing to go on the record and discuss structural issues of contentious issues such as this, it was an avenue we did pursue to no avail.

It’s a shame you feel the piece is lacking, but we did try and keep it to current events rather than the intricacies of a battle which is likely to wage on for some time to come.

WGD

Comment by Welsh Green Dragon

As you say: “Of course there is considerable risk that if the reservoir is drained then the clay structure could dry out leaving fissures ….” Well, at least you acknowledge this issue even if you didn’t cover it. You could have Googled earth dam failures – there was one that failed last year in Indonesia’s capital resulting in significant loss of life and property damage. You actually mapped out the downward trajectory to Roath Park Lake – between the reservoir and the lake is a school for young children.

Comment by Dr. Christopher Wood

PS It is wonderful that you are taking news-reporting seriously. We are all learning all the time including moi, good so long as we learn from our mistakes and in the matter of news reporting one should not fall into the trap of being used; we were all pupils or students once – but basic research and asking penetrating questions is essential – in this case to cover the insanity of holding 1.5 million tons of water above atop a hill facing over a hundred houses and at least one school, but I do wish you the best in your future career(s). Always feel free to write me and interview me anytime! (If you like, just give me an email address to reply to and I will email you guys with my full contact details.)

Comment by Dr. Christopher Wood

“As I’m sure you’re aware Television isn’t necessarily a detail medium, and making claims about potential dam failure would definitely need substantiating on our part.”

Again, you need to do research. RAG itself admitted in a letter (“Group raises reservoir dam burst concern” – see Echo article published on March 6, 2010; that there is a risk of earth dam failure if the artificial reservoir is refilled (which will take some years), this letter was distributed to several people as an argument not to start the drain down, which has started. How come you did not know this? The only answer that springs to mind is that you did not do basic research. Frankly, this is just shoddy. Do the research.

Comment by Dr. Christopher Wood

I have in fact, read both engineers reports, from both sides of the argument, as riveting as they were. If that’s not research then I must be mistaken as to what is.

You seem obsessed with this doomsday scenario. The dam is in good condition, and is not going to be breached if it stays as it is. It has been suggested that this may not be the case if the reservoir is emptied to unprecedented levels and not promptly refilled[see Echo article published on March 6, 2010; that there is a risk of earth dam failure if the artificial reservoir is refilled (which will take some years)]. This is RAG’s argument for the drain down to stop before it is too late and damage is done.

I’m sure that if there was ever a question of safety to the hundreds of residents and the school, that there would be no question that the reservoir should be emptied. I would not expect the Welsh Assembly, RAG nor Cardiff Council would be putting up such a fight to save it if it were unsafe. Likewise, I would imagine any doubt in its structural integrity would be the ideal scenario for Western Power, and they’d be all over that as part of their defence to redevelop.

That would be a great story, unfortunately, the facts just aren’t there, however much research you do, and you can’t base journalism on hear say. Number one rule.

Many members of the Reservoir Action Group live in direct line of your imagined apocalyptic scenario. Yet they campaign to save it.

You make many assumptions that this has been shoddily reported. However, forgive me, I feel you seem to be somewhat missing the point.

Comment by Welsh Green Dragon

It seems your ‘research’ is lacking across the board.

FYI: the original organizer for RAG lives on Black Oak Road which is on the same level as the artificial reservoir and is not in the downhill trajectory.

MP Julie Morgan who supports RAG likewise does not live on the downward trajectory (doesn’t even live in Cardiff).

Those that do live in the downward trajectory have probably not come to the realization that they are on a downward trajectory and/or that some 1.5 million tons of water is held back by nothing more than earth, which can dry out and fissure/crack.

It is ridiculous to hold such a massive tonnage of water (over one million tons) at 45 m elevation above hundreds of houses and at least one school especially in view of the fact that the primary purpose (to supply water to Cardiff) of the artificial reservoir disappeared years ago. It simply tempts another Aberfan.

RAG (if you had bothered to do your homework) has stated in a letter that there is a risk of earth dam failure upon refilling Llanishen reservoir. For whatever reason, you are ignored their letter probably because your ‘research’ didn’t find it.

Earth dams have a history of failure – just last year one failed in Indonesia – again your ‘research’ didn’t pick this up.

Since you did not shown an interview in your piece other than interviews with supporters of RAG your article was nothing more than a mouthpiece for RAG.

Tell me, did you actually interview anyone other than RAG supporters? Or did you keep such interviews out of your piece?

Comment by Dr. Christopher Wood

Here are extracts based on the letter from RAG (Reservoir Action Group) as reported in the Echo on March 6 2010 (“Group Raises Reservoir Dam Burst Concern”):

This is what Andrew Hill, of RAG, was quoted as saying: “If it is completely emptied, there is a danger that the clay core round the embankment could crack because it has to be wet to be kept as a functioning water membrane.”

“If it gets refilled, it may seep and burst the dam. What we are saying is that any risk is unacceptable if there is a danger of loss of life.”

“In Dr Hughes’ (reservoir’s engineer) report he categorises the site as a Category A reservoir. That status has serious implications which mean that lives would be endangered if the reservoir was breached.”

“And RAG says that in the event that the 1,440,909 cubic metre capacity reservoir was to lay empty before then being refilled, that risk would be increased.”

“Mr Hill said there was also a danger that fish could get trapped in the clay, but would not necessarily be seen. That would seriously compromise the stability of the structure.”

“The letter has been sent to AMs and MPs, including the First Minister, Heritage Minister and to heritage guardian Cadw.”

Comment by Dr. Christopher Wood

Thank you for your interest in this piece Chris, you are clearly very passionate about the future of the reservoir.

Indeed, if the reservoir is emptied it could cause doubt in it structually, as I have said many times.

However, as it stands the reservoir is not yet empty. This letter from RAG is intended to stop the draining, it is just not the pressing issue in this news report.

Any problems with the drying out of the clay lining would occur over years, which is why this article does not cover it.

Should there be any supporting evidence that damage is done to the reservoir in the future it would certainly be of interest to us.

Should you be able to provide any supporting information for your claims, other than articles than I have already read many times, i’d be very interested to see them.

Regards

WGD

Comment by Welsh Green Dragon

WGD> do your homework. If memory serves, one of the engineering reports speaks to a concern about possible earth removal from the earth dam that separates Llanishen reservoir from Lisvane reservoir, that water pipe work installed in that earth dam might have leaked but it is hard to ascertain because the pipe work is buried in the earth dam – it would require excavation of the earth dam to check. That is a concern separate from the current drain-down.

You admit that once the current drain down is done that there is a question about drying out of the earth dams – according to others (including RAG) it will likely take years for the reservoir to refill (since Welsh Water stopped pumping water uphill to Llanishen reservoir some years ago when Llanishen reservoir was no longer used to supply water to Cardiff – it was originally built atop a hill (at about 49 yards elevation) to supply water to Cardiff by ‘gravity assist’ – the reservoir will take years to refill by means of rain water; so its inevitable that parts of the earth dams will dry out and fissure. Incidentally, a RAG supporter told me that Lisvane reservoir is already leaking – did your research pick up on this?

As to my passion – I will tell you why I am passionate about the risks to children associated with a potential earth dam burst.

When I lived in Llanishen one of my siblings was born in a house in Llanishen. Another was supposed to be a home birth too, but this sibling was in a difficult position in my mother’s womb and so was transferred for a Cardiff hospital – he was born OK, but had a birth mark on his face that has since receded to the point it is hardly noticeable. I attended Cefn Onn Infant and two years of Cefn Onn Junior School in Llanishen before my Welsh father moved us to a new house in Trowbridge. I hung out in Llanishen Village, especially on Saturdays when I would sit on the church wall on Station Road near the village and race between adults’ feet when the lady dressed in white emerged from the church – we ran like wild onions between feet collecting pennies and than flushed with child joy rang to the village sweet shop to spend our ‘takings’. So I have very strong feelings and connections to Llanishen (my Welsh father moved to Cardiff from his valley above Port Talbot, my mothers family are from the Bedwas/Trethomas/Llanbradach areas so I have very strong valley connections). As a university student I worked a summer testing water for the then aptly named Welsh Water Authority so I was very familiar with S.E. Wales water supply issues.

I love Llanishen, I simply love the place. But I remember one day distinctly, a terrible day, my parents whispering in very concerned tones. One of my Welsh uncles was visiting from Bedwas (most of my family lived in the valleys) wanted to hitch a lift to go to some place that I had never heard of (Aberfan) – up there to dig help dig out the children, over 100 killed by liquid slag previously stored at elevation above the school – it moved and then there was death on a cataclysmic scale.

That terrible day moved me – we must NEVER have another Aberfan.

Comment by Dr. Christopher Wood

PS I forgot to add that such is my love for Llanishen that when I got married we spent our first wedding night together in a hotel in Llanishen – the same hotel I often took my mother (and sometimes her dad, my Welsh grandfather) for Sunday lunch. I don’t want to see needless avoidable destruction wrought on my beloved Llanishen. Once drained, Llanishen reservoir must remained drained – built a nature park, develop the area for the citizens of Llanishen and Cardiff – but DON’T HOLD 1.5 MILLION TONS OF WATER AT 49 yards elevation above hundreds of houses and two schools.

Comment by Dr. Christopher Wood

@C. Wood

Your argument is a straw man, if WPD weren’t needlessly draining the reservoir then there would be no danger of the embankment being breached! Your comparison with Indonesian is laughable – Wales isn’t the third world!

Who are you? Who are you working for? What are you a doctor of? How many shares in WPD/PPL do you own? How much money have you received from them in the last 5 years?

Comment by bunsenhoneydew

Here are extracts concerning the letter from RAG (Reservoir Action Group) as reported in the Echo on March 6, 2010 (“Group Raises Reservoir Dam Burst Concern”):

This is what Andrew Hill, of RAG, was quoted as saying: “If it (Llanishen Reservoir) is completely emptied, there is a danger that the clay core round the embankment could crack because it has to be wet to be kept as a functioning water membrane.”

“If it gets refilled, it may seep and burst the dam. What we are saying is that any risk is unacceptable if there is a danger of loss of life.”

“In Dr Hughes’ (reservoir’s engineer) report he categorises the site as a Category A reservoir. That status has serious implications which mean that lives would be endangered if the reservoir was breached.”

“And RAG says that in the event that the 1,440,909 cubic metre capacity reservoir was to lay empty before then being refilled, that risk would be increased.”

“Mr Hill said there was also a danger that fish could get trapped in the clay, but would not necessarily be seen. That would seriously compromise the stability of the structure.”

“The letter has been sent to AMs and MPs, including the First Minister, Heritage Minister and to heritage guardian Cadw.”

Comment by Dr. Christopher Wood

Having read this article and the follow up comments it does seem that ‘Dr Woods@ is averting many of the questions asked. My first thought was that this guy is working for WPD. Its disgusting the way these huge companies can bend the rules and law to suit their own greed and needs, good luck to RAG, will be interested in any devlopments.

Comment by Drainage

I don’t work for “WPD” … I have never worked for “WPD”; I have never had any discussions with “WPD” about anything lest of all Llanishen Reservoir. I have no connection whatsoever with “WPD” or any corporation for that matter vis-à-vis Llanishen ‘reservoir’.

My interest is personal, I grew up in Cardiff, I lived in Llanishen as a child, and one of my siblings was born in Llanishen. The first school I ever attended was Cefn Onn infant school (in Llanishen). When I was married my wife and I had our wedding dinner with close family and friends (all from Cardiff) at a small hotel in Llanishen. I wanted to spend our first day as a married man in Llanishen. We loved that wee hotel, before I was married (in Cardiff) I took my mum there quite a few times for Sunday brunch and took my Welsh grandfather from his Welsh village north of Cardiff to have Sunday lunch there.

As a child I hung out in Llanishen Village and used to run between adults legs running to pick up ‘thrown down money’ when the ‘lady in white’ emerged from the church in Llanishen Village and with my pals run to the sweet shop in Llanishen Village. (My great grandfather (might be my great great grandfather as I obviously never met him, was from Scotland – he moved to Wales as a young man and settled in Bedwas from where he traveled to various parts of Wales to build bridges for Welsh trains – particularly to carry coal trucks from the valleys down to the South Wales coast for coal export. So I am sorry to disappoint, I am from Cardiff (born in a hospital in Cardiff) as were all three of my siblings.

I am genuinely worried about any future refilling of Llanishen ‘reservoir” – this artificial lake normally holds over 1 million tons of water, it is sited above hundreds of houses and two schools – literally hundreds of properties and peoples lives would be devastated if the earth embankment dam fails. Houses around Roath Park Lake would almost certainly be damaged by a million tons of water suddenly arriving violently on Roath Park Lake.

RAG, in their own words RAG (Reservoir Action Group) said to the Echo on March 6, 2010 (article: “Group Raises Reservoir Dam Burst Concern”) that there is a serious concern about the earth dam failing if the reservoir is refilled; specifically:

This is what Andrew Hill, of RAG, was quoted as saying: “If it (Llanishen Reservoir) is completely emptied, there is a danger that the clay core round the embankment could crack because it has to be wet to be kept as a functioning water membrane.”

“If it gets refilled, it may seep and burst the dam. What we are saying is that any risk is unacceptable if there is a danger of loss of life.”

Comment by Dr. Christopher Wood




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