Kielder water scheme

Year:1982

Duration:7 years

Cost:£167m (£541m today)

Country: Northumberland, UK

What did this project achieve?

Provide a major water supply for industry and homes in the north east of England

The need for a major water storage scheme in north east England goes back to the mid 19th century when expanding industries on Tyneside and Teesside were demanding more water.

Reservoirs were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries but by the 1960s it looked like demand would outstrip supply. Local industry such as British Steel required much greater volumes while domestic water usage was also rising due to growing prosperity.

The answer was the Kielder scheme, a regional water transfer system in the north east of England. It releases water from the reservoir at Kielder Water into local rivers.

The scheme means rivers such as the Tyne, Derwent and Tees can be kept at minimum levels even when rainfall has been low. This makes more water available downstream for domestic and industrial use.

The network is underpinned by Kielder Water. The 200bn litre reservoir is the biggest artificial lake in the UK by capacity. It's surrounded by Kielder Forest, the largest man-made woodland in Europe.

The scheme was planned in the late 1960s to satisfy a predicted rise in demand for water on the back of a booming UK industrial economy.

Although that boom never came the scheme continues to serve the north east of England. Water released from Kielder Water in Northumberland's North Tyne Valley can supply Tyneside and Teesside more than 80 miles away.

Kielder Water is also the site of Europe's largest hydroelectric plant. The dual-turbine power station produces an average 20,000MW of electricity a year.

Difference the scheme has made

The Kielder project has cut down on water shortages in the north east. Rivers flowing into cities such as Middlesbrough and Sunderland can now be at a higher level than before the scheme.

Tourism in the area has created new jobs and brought income to the area. People visit the reservoir for water sports and the scenery around the lake.

The Kielder reservoir dam generates hydroelectric power – a reliable and clean source of energy.

How the work was done

Kielder Water is 11km long. The reservoir's dam is at the south-east end of the valley. It's 1.2km long and 52m high.

The area was chosen for a reservoir as it was sparsely populated and had a rainfall twice the national average.

Engineers used around 4.9m m3 of boulder clay to construct the dam. The structure holds back water with a surface area of 2,740 acres.

The project team built a 67m high draw-off tower and a 183m long overflow weir at the northern end of the dam.

A draw-off tower is an intake tower designed for drinking water reservoirs. With inlets at different levels, a draw-off tower only takes water from the level where it's of the highest quality.

The overflow weir allows water from Kielder to run off when the reservoir gets to capacity. Water falls into a basin at the foot of the dam and then flows into the river Tyne.

It took 2 years for the reservoir to fill up with water after the dam had been built.

Around 1,500 engineers and other workers were involved in the 7 year project.

"​‌

The scheme is a bold and imaginative one - the largest single water conservation scheme yet undertaken in this country.

Water Resources Board

Report on plans for the Kielder scheme in 1973.

Fascinating facts

Kielder's maximum output of 1,300m litres a day would produce enough power to keep the lights on in a town the size of nearby Hexham, which has a population of 11,000.

The area around Kielder is said to have the darkest skies in England. Kielder Observatory which overlooks the lake was built to take advantage of this low light pollution.

Kielder Water and Forest Park is home to around half of England's red squirrels.

People who made it happen

  • Client: Northumbrian rivers authority
  • Chief engineer: Urban Burston, ICE member
  • Kielder Water designers: consulting engineers Babtie, Shaw and Morton

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